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Tom Arnbom, Northeast Passage day 8: Fantastic Mr Arctic fox!

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This summer, WWF is helping support two expeditions that will take on some of the world’s most difficult waters, to see first-hand the effects of Arctic climate change. One expedition is sailing across the top of Russia, a journey of 6000 nautical miles through the Northeast Passage, while another is attempting a west to east transit of the Northwest Passage, also by sailing boat, a journey of about 7,000 nautical miles.

Tom Arnbom of Sweden was on the ‘Explorer of Sweden’ though the Northeast Passage, as was WWF Arctic Programme Director Neil Hamilton for much of the trip, replaced near the end by WWF polar bear coordinator Geoff York. On the ‘Silent Sound’ Cameron Dueck of the Open Passage Expedition is filing regular stories from the Northwest passage. Come back for photos and stories throughout the summer, and follow the progress of the boats as they follow in the wake of some of history’s most intrepid explorers.

By Tom Arnbom

Voyaging around Svalbard. Photo by Tom Arnbom.Voyaging around Svalbard. Photo by Tom Arnbom


We managed through the storm and found a safe harbour. At most it was blowing 26 m/s which is full storm, and the sea water temperature was minus one. We lingered around the coast of Edgeöya and finally anchored at Disco, a bird colony of kittiwakes.

The gulls are breeding in a canyon and the noise and foul smell is part of the local flavour. A curious arctic fox checks us out before heading to the colony to find some eggs or injured birds. The fox’s fur is brown – this is its summer fur. In winter the arctic fox is pure white. Here on Svalbard the Arctic fox is doing fine, while in Scandinavia the population is very low – on the brink of becoming extinct – although last summer was a relatively good one for the Scandinavian population.

An arctic fox with its brown summer coat.An arctic fox with its brown summer coat. Photo by Tom Arnbom

After intensive hunting of artic foxes for their fur in Sweden, Finland and Norway, the population was very low – in addition the lemming and vole populations was severely reduced for almost twenty years so the arctic fox also almost became extinct in Sweden and Norway. In Finland no breeding has taken place for several years now.

The future looks pretty bleak for the Scandinavian population of the arctic fox. The tree-line is climbing higher and higher which is bad in two ways. First, the open tundra habitat is shrinking, which is where the arctic fox lives – and on top of that, with the treeline comes the red fox which competes with its smaller cousin. The red fox takes over the dens of the arctic fox, and it can even kill the arctic fox.

But here on Svalbard, the arctic foxes are thriving, at least during the summer when the bird colonies are full of eggs and chicks.

« Tom Arnbom, Northeast Passage day 5 & 6: Close encounters of the bear kind | Tom Arnbom, Northeast Passage day 10: Richness and diversity »

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