Wrangel Island

Amazing wildlife in the Russian Arctic: Polar Bears, seabirds, Siberian landbird specialities and cetaceans

At a Glance

FOCUS:

Bird & Wildlife Cruise:  birds, whales and remote Arctic islands.

WHERE:

Anadyr – Chukotka – Wrangel Island – Chukotka – Anadyr

SAMPLE WILDLIFE:

Mammals: Polar Bear, Arctic Fox, Musk Ox, Pacific Walrus, Bowhead Whale, Humpback Whale, Grey Whale and Beluga.

Birds: Parakeet, Least and Crested Auklets, Kittlitz's Murrelet, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Brunnich's Guillemot, White-billed Diver, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel, Short-tailed Shearwater, Emperor Goose, Snow Goose, Spectacled Eider, Steller's Eider and King Eider, Sandhill Crane, Western Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Snowy Owl, Gyrfalcon and Arctic Warbler.

Dates and Prices:

Dates: June-August 2022

Leader: Ship’s expedition team

Prices: TBC


Travel to Russia is currently not advised by the UK government as the country is on the "amber list". Hopefully this will be possible in 2022 without too many restrictions and until there is greater clarity we do not recommend making bookings.

  • World record Polar Bear encounter (241 animals)
  • Polar Bears on dead Bowhead Whale, Wrangel Island
  • Spectacled Eider, Chukotka
  • Spectacled Eider, Chukotka
  • White-billed Diver
  • Spectacled Eider
  • Polar Bears, sea ice off Wrangel Island
  • Musk Ox, Wrangel Island
  • summer flowers, Wrangel Island
  • Polar Bears, sea ice off Wrangel Island
  • Walrus, sea ice off Wrangel Island
  • Polar Bear, sea ice off Wrangel Island
  • Arctic Ground Squirrel, Chukotka
  • Beluga, Chukotka
  • Sandhill Cranes, Chukotka
  • Red-necked Stint, Chukotka

Tour overview

This spectacular region has only been accessible since the mid 1990s and remains rarely visited, however, for anyone wanting to see the Arctic at its best and maximise on their chances of Polar Bears, then a trip to Wrangel Island is unquestionably the place to go.  Nearby Herald Island is believed to have the highest density of denning bears anywhere in the Arctic and in 2017 our recommended vessel, Spirit of Enderby, found a world record 241 bears around a whale carcass on the western side of Wrangel Island.  An unbelievable experience for those who were fortunate to be aboard and a story that spread around the world !!

Our New Zealand friends at Heritage Expeditions unquestionably have the most experience of running trips in this region and the Spirit of Enderby is a perfect option being both ice-strengthened and Russian owned.  This means she is able to visit locations unavailable to companies operating ships which are not Russian flagged and the higher ice rating means she can push through ice which is not an option for many other vessels, vastly increasing the chances of finding bears out on the sea ice early in the season.  Both these factors, combined with the wildlife focus of most voyages, makes for a much more fulfilling trip and higher chances of seeing all the key wildlife.

Whilst Polar Bears are the main attraction for many people, there is plenty of other wildlife to look for including a superb range of seabirds.  Most trips, for example, include a zodiac cruise at Preobrazheniya Bay where there are some spectacular bird cliffs offering opportunities to see Crested and Parakeet Auklets, as well as both Horned and Tufted Puffins and chances for Brown Bear and even Wolverine.  All trips also sail offshore from Cape Dezhnev, the most easterly point in Eurasia, and as the ship continues northwards, the concentrations of seabirds and marine ducks can be very special, with huge concentrations of eiders streaming south from early summer onwards.  As well as Common Eider, it is also possible to see King, Steller's and the tricky Spectacled Eider in this region.

North of the Bering Strait, the number of whales along the coast of northern Chukotka can be very impressive and whilst Humpback Whales are the most numerous, there are also Grey Whales and the highly endangered Bowhead Whale is also possible.  With North Pacific Right Whale (the most endangered of the great whales) found on one occasion in one of the many fjords further south and good numbers of Belugas in the river where you board and disembark in Anadyr, the cetacean opportunities are absolutely outstanding.

Depending on the ice conditions and time of year when you visit will very much determine the itinerary but most voyages spend at least three or four days exploring Wrangel Island with a mixture of landings, zodiac cruises and ship cruising.  Early in the summer, there is typically more sea ice and this means higher chances of Polar Bears out on the ice hunting walrus and seals.  Later trips will probably have more time ashore increasing the opportunities to see Musk Ox, Snowy Owls and maybe even find the tusks of some Wrangel Mammoths as this was the last place in the world where these ancient relatives of the Elephant survived.  The summer flowers are also very impressive with a high diversity of species and more endemics than anywhere else in the Arctic.

On some expeditions, visits are also made to Kolyuchin Island where the seabird cliffs are amongst the best in this part of Arctic Russia with the auks and puffins joined by Pelagic Cormorants, Glaucous Gulls and the occasional bear looking for an easy meal.  A few miles to the south at Kolyuchin Inlet, there is a network of ponds out on the tundra where White-billed and Pacific Divers breed along with Sandhill Cranes and much more besides.

For anyone who has joined one of the Heritage Expeditions trips in the Kurils, or has never been to the Russian Far East before, there will be much that is new and this truly is amongst the world's "must do" wildlife destinations.

Sample Itinerary

Day 1: Anadyr

Day 2: Anadyrskiy Bay

Day 3: Yttygran, Nuneangan and Arakamchechen Islands 

Day 4: Cape Dezhnev and Uelen Village

Day 5: Kolyuchin Island

Days 6-10: Wrangel and Herald Islands

Day 11 : North Siberian Coast

Day 12: Kolyuchin Inlet

Days 13: Bering Strait and Chukotka Coast

Day 14: At Sea

Day 15: Anadyr

NB: As applies to all expedition cruises, the exact itinerary will be subject to weather and local conditions. All landings are subject to government permissions.

Potential Seabirds  (selected species only)

Emperor Goose, Snow Goose, Steller's Eider, Spectacled Eider, King Eider,  Harlequin Duck, Black Scoter, Glaucous Gull, Sabine's Gull, Arctic Tern, Brunnich's Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Kittlitz's Murrelet, Parakeet Auklet, Least Auklet, Crested Auklet, Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Pacific Diver, White-billed Diver, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel, Short-tailed Shearwater, Pelagic Cormorant,  Fork-tailed Storm-petrel, Short-tailed Shearwater, Red-necked Phalarope and Grey (Red) Phalarope.

Potential Landbirds (selected species only)

Sandhill Crane, Western Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Rough-legged Buzzard, Snowy Owl, Gyrfalcon, Arctic Warbler, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Bluethroat, Red-throated Pipit and Arctic Redpoll.

Potential Mammals (selected species only)

The following species have been seen on one or more of the previous expeditions: Polar Bear, Brown Bear, Arctic Fox, Wolf, Wolverine, Musk Ox, Arctic Ground Squirrel, Wrangel Collared Lemming, Wrangel Lemming,  Northern Pika, Pacific Walrus, Bearded Seal, Ringed Seal, North Pacific Right Whale, Minke Whale, Bowhead Whale, Humpback Whale, Grey Whale and Beluga.