An Arctic fox surprises researchers with an epic run across polar ice from Svalbard to Canada

It's the first ever documented migration from Svalbard to Canada.

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - June 27, 2019
The fox that got a satellite-tracked necklace later made it all the way from Svalbard to Canada. (Elise Strømseng via The Independent Barents Observer)

A satellite-tracked Arctic fox stunned researchers by making a 3,500-kilometer trek across Arctic sea ice and glacier to travel from the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard to Canada’s Ellesmere Island in about two and a half months.

“We first did not believe it was true,” rone of the researchers, Eva Fuglei, said about the amazing run of the adventurous Arctic fox.

The fox, carrying a satellite-tracked necklace, set out from the Spitsbergen Island on March 26, 2018. After 21 days, it arrived in Greenland. But it did not stop there. The fox subsequently continued its Arctic odyssey all the way to Ellesmere Island in Canada.

The distance of 3,506 kilometers was completed in only 76 days, according to the Norwegian Polar Research Institute. The average daily distance of the fox was 46 kilometers. At most, the animal ran as much as 155 kilometers per day.

“This is the quickest speed ever registered with an Arctic fox,” Fuglei said.

Fuglei, a researcher at the Polar Research Institute, has conducted the study together with Arnaud Tarroux from the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research (NINA), and the results were recently published in an article in the Polar Research magazine.

It is the first ever study that in detail shows how an Arctic fox wanders between continents and different Arctic ecosystems, and the first ever documented migration from Svalbard to Canada.

A map shows the extraordinary migration of a satellite-tracked Arctic fox from Svalbard to Canada. (Norwegian Polar Institute)

The animal had an impressive speed, the researchers underline. It first crossed the polar ice between Svalbard and Greenland and then passed great glaciers before it again made it across the ice to Ellesmere Island.

The destiny of the small fox in Canada will be unknown to the researchers as the satellite transmitter stopped working in February this year. “But it will definitely have to change its food habits,” says Fuglei. The Arctic fox population in Ellesmere Island eats mostly lemmings, while the Svalbard foxes find food in marine environments.

It is well known to researchers that Arctic foxes migrate across the Arctic, but Fuglei and the Polar Research Institute are baffled by the long and quick run of the little super-fox.

Previously, Arctic fox populations migrated also between Iceland, Jan Mayen and other parts of the Arctic. But these populations are now isolated as the polar ice has vanished.

The ice has always provided animals with a platform for food and migration. However, with the warmer global climate the melting Arctic ice, the conditions for animal life are deteriorating.