The Endangered Species Of The Polar Regions
It’s a sad fact that one of the biggest draws to our polar regions, the amazing wildlife that lives there, is slowly disappearing from these frozen landscapes. Due to environmental changes, both manmade and natural, numbers of some of the most iconic Arctic and Antarctic animals are dwindling and soon these majestic creatures may no longer be here for us to enjoy.
That’s not to say that the animals on this list are destined to die out in the near future, as conservation efforts abound to protect those that are left and encourage numbers to increase once again. There have been success stories in the past, so let’s hope the good work that organisations such as the WWF, Greenpeace and Born Free carry out continues to bear fruit.
The sei whale is one of a few different whales on the WWF’s list of endangered species but is far less familiar than its blue, fin and North Atlantic right cousins. Balaenoptera borealis, to give this beautiful creature its scientific name, is often found feeding in the waters around Iceland and Greenland during the summer. With a maximum speed of around 30 miles per hour, the sei whale is one of the fastest whales in our oceans. Their numbers only started to decrease during the 1950s, when whalers switched to hunting them as a result of the reduced populations of blue and fin whales.
The true status of the Eskimo curlew is not known at the moment as, even though it is officially listed as critically endangered, a confirmed sighting hasn’t been made for around 30 years. This has led some scientists to presume that these small birds are now extinct. Found along the north coasts of Alaska and Canada, Eskimo Curlews can be identified thanks to their curved beaks and the fact that they carry their heads quite low. At one point, they were thought to be the most proliferous coastal birds in North America but excessive hunting in the 1800s drastically decreased their population.
Macaroni penguins are one of two species that are listed as vulnerable (one step down from endangered) by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. They are easily recognisable from their cute cousins thanks to the yellow crest of feathers that can be seen on their heads. One of seven species of penguin that can be seen on our Antarctic cruises, macaronis were named by English sailors living on the Falkland Islands in the 19th century. The term macaroni was historically used to describe someone who dressed flamboyantly and so it was used to refer to the penguin’s colourful crest.
There are many species of albatross on the IUCN’s Red List, but the grey-headed species is commonly found within the Antarctic region. They breed on the island of South Georgia and can be seen in great numbers on the beaches here, but the number of breeding pairs is decreasing. Over half of the world’s entire population is thought to be found on this small island in the South Atlantic but longline fishing in the area has caused drastic changes in their numbers.
The polar bear has become the face of Arctic environmental protection in recent years, as numbers continue to fall and animals are found further and further south. Although they are only categorised as vulnerable for now, there is a real fear that dwindling ice coverage will lead to their conservation status becoming a lot more serious in the near future. The kings of the Arctic are definitely one of the main reasons why people go on wildlife watching cruises in this part of the world, but if current rates continue, they could be extinct in as little as 100 years from now.
If you would like to see any of these fantastic animals for yourself, our polar cruises have a big focus wildlife spotting. For more information or to book your next adventure, call us today or submit an online enquiry.