Wilderness reigns supreme on remote Wrangel Island, located in the Russian Far East about 90 miles from the Siberian mainland. The Wrangel Island Nature Reserve (which also includes nearby Herald Island) boasts the highest level of biodiversity in the High Arctic, thanks to a self-contained ecosystem that evolved uninterrupted by glaciation. The mountain ranges and tundra landscape here appear much as they did when woolly mammoths roamed the region; indeed, while these giant creatures vanished from the mainland during the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago, the last-known mammoths survived another 6,000 years or so on these isolated, ice-choked shores.
Today Wrangel Island Nature Reserve — designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004 — is home to the greatest density of denning polar bears on Earth. While the summer ice melt brings many of the region’s bears here to rest and feed, hundreds of females stay behind during the winter to give birth and raise their young in snow dens, earning Wrangel the nickname of “polar bear maternity ward.” Spend three fascinating days exploring the island reserve, which also claims the largest population of Pacific walrus on the planet and plays host to some 100 migratory bird species, including the last major population of breeding snow geese in Asia. Nearly 420 plant species and subspecies have been identified here — more than the entire Canadian archipelago — and its nutrient-rich waters provide a major feeding ground for migrating grey whales.
Highlights of your Wrangel Island Experience include:
Polar Bear Sightings: Enjoy the rare opportunity to observe one of the largest polar bear populations on the planet. Whether seen as a tiny white speck in the distance, or ambling slowly along a shoreline, a glimpse of this special species is always awe-inspiring. Rest assured that your Expedition Team will never pursue polar bears, nor allow any encounters to adversely impact them.
Whale Watching: Wrangel Island is a regular stop for migrating grey whales from Mexico. Orca, beluga, and bowhead whales also visit here to feed in the reserve’s nutrient-rich waters.
Woolly Mammoth Remains: Mammoth tusks and bones have been found scattered across the tundra landscape on Wrangel, the last-known refuge for these ancient beasts.
Birdwatching: Grab your binoculars and set out to spy some of Wrangel’s 100 bird species including puffins, guillemots, snowy owls, skuas, Arctic terns, ivory gulls, and lesser snow geese.
Regular Zodiac cruises with your Expedition Team often provide the best vantage to admire Wrangel’s rugged topography. The Zodiacs are perfect for observing the island’s walrus rookeries, and serve as a good platform for watching seabirds flying overhead, listening to the ocean’s roar, and grasping the immensity of this beautiful land.
Set out on foot across the vast tundra landscape, as your Expedition Team members point out small, delicate plants and brilliantly colored wildflowers that thrive here during the short summer. Encounters with muskoxen, Arctic foxes, hares, or interesting bird species are always possible, as are polar bear sightings. Rest assured that all walks are carefully monitored by Bear Guards, who work to maintain the safety of visitor and bear alike.
OPTIONAL EXPEDITION (if possible):
Join your Kayak Team for a paddle along the shores of Wrangel Island. The chance to experience this spectacular place from a water-level perspective is unique and not to be missed.