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Animals That Live In
Canada’s Arctic

Credit: Danny Kent
Credit: Margaret Butschler
Credit: Danny Kent
Credit: Meighan Makarchuk
Credit: Danny Kent
Credit: Danny Kent

What Lies Beneath
The Surface

From alien-looking copepods to sea angels and aptly named arrow worms, the waters of the Arctic Ocean can hardly be called barren, even though it may appear that way from above the sea ice. More than 90 percent of the roughly 5,000 known species of Arctic marine invertebrates (animals without spines) live on the sea floor. Learn more about some of the animals that call the Arctic home below, or come and meet these creatures in the Vancouver Aquarium’s Canada’s Arctic gallery.

Arctic Char Credit: Danny Kent

Arctic Char

Arctic char are related to trout and salmon. In High Arctic lakes, they’re the only fish and appear in many forms—from bottom feeders to medium-sized plankton eaters to large-sized fish eaters. Found throughout Canada’s Arctic, Arctic char seem an ideal fish to help researchers track the effect of climate change. However, researchers are working against time to find even baseline information about a fish that is already experiencing effects due to climate change. For example, they’re still discovering different forms of Arctic char living in some Arctic lakes, let alone what causes this fish to evolve into different forms, or their relationship to each other, or to their habitats.

Arctic Cod

The Arctic cod is a key species in the Arctic marine ecosystem. It’s a critical link in the food web between the zooplankton it feeds on and the other Arctic fishes, seabirds, seals and whales that eat it. Arctic cod sometimes hide in the cracks underneath sea ice, or resides near drifting pans of ice. 

If summer ice continues disappearing, one of the most important habitats of ice-associated copepods, amphipods and Arctic cod would be greatly affected. To what extent and how, researchers are working hard to find out. 

Beluga Mothers and Babies Belugas in the wild. Photo: John Ford


Beluga whales, protected by a thick insulating layer of blubber, thrive in the icy Arctic and sub-Arctic waters of Canada, Alaska, Russia, Norway and Greenland. Of the 22 possible beluga populations in the Arctic, seven live in Canada’s Arctic for at least part of the year. 

Belugas travel between summer and winter grounds as sea ice breaks up or freezes and gather in large numbers during summer at specific estuaries, where the rivers meet the ocean. Studies by Canadian researchers suggest that belugas who return to the same estuaries tend to be closely related to each other. Satellite-linked transmitters (tags) attached to belugas are helping us better understand their seasonal movements, but there is still much to learn.
Visit our beluga AquaFacts

Fish Antifreeze

Several fish species have natural antifreeze proteins which bind to and inhibit growth of ice crystals in their body fluids. This is how fishes like Arctic cod and some sculpins thrive in water temperatures below 0°C. 

Fish antifreeze is about 300 times more effective than conventional chemical antifreezes at the same concentrations. Ice cream manufacturers are using Arctic fish antifreeze proteins to avoid the formation of ice crystals during the cooling process. The antifreeze proteins have also been used successfully in the cold storage of sperm and other tissues, with applications in agriculture, wildlife conservation and medical research.

Group Of Belugas Credit: Danny Kent

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