Poles Apart: Comparing the Arctic and the Antarctic Polar regions

There are many features the two Polar Regions have in common – they are both large pristine landscapes, home to icebergs, glaciers, abundant wildlife and international research stations. Whilst offering some of the most breathtaking landscapes and unique wildlife experiences for the intrepid traveller, the differences between the two polar regions are many. 

Scenic Eclipse guests have the opportunity to visit these extraordinary two regions via handcrafted itineraries in truly all-inclusive luxury and setting the new benchmark in ultra-luxury for a maximum of 200 guests in polar regions. With an ice class rating of Polar Class 6, the highest of any luxury vessel, coupled with state of the art technology, Scenic Eclipse is perfectly designed to safely navigate icy polar waters and sensitive marine environments, as well as access places other ships cannot dock. 

While our handcrafted itineraries bring out the best in every destination, the two on board state-of-the-art helicopters help you venture beyond the horizon. Imagine gaining unparalleled access to the icy wonderlands as you fly out across the pristine Lofoten Islands and Norwegian Fjords, venture further than most on the Antarctic continent and experience the thrill of soaring above the volcanic peaks of Iceland^. Whilst on board the 6-seater submarine, Scenic Neptune^, you will see the secrets of the deep – from mysterious sea creatures to hidden reefs. 
We spoke to Jason Flesher, Manager of Scenic Eclipse’s 16-member expert Discovery Team, to bring you an expert overview on the diversity of the Arctic and Antarctic circles, along with what you can expect on your unforgettable Scenic Eclipse discovery voyage. Jason has educated diverse groups of guests from all ages and backgrounds, in over twenty countries, on all seven continents and has been the Lead Antarctic Expedition Guide for 2,041 expeditions. 
“Our role on board is to help guests create their own stories, to help them discover and challenge themselves with new experiences and adventures, knowing they have some of the best guides in the world to help them.”

Jason Flesher, Discovery Team Manager

Who owns the Arctic and Antarctica?

The short answer is no one country owns or controls each polar region. Antarctica is a continent surrounded by water. The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land. Antarctica is a continent governed by the Antarctic Treaty, which came into force in 1961. Under the Treaty military activity is banned, scientific cooperation is encouraged, and any sovereign claims on the land are not recognized, disputed or established. 

In the Arctic, although the ocean is disputed, the surrounding land is clearly defined by national borders. There are territories belonging to eight countries within the Arctic Circle – Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark, and Iceland. 
“Flexibility is key in our operations, so that we can take advantage of wildlife sightings or other spontaneous opportunities that arise. The design and manoeuvrability of Scenic Eclipse is such that we can navigate narrow waterways and small harbours that larger vessels cannot reach, and can react quickly to the magic that nature offers.”

Jason Flesher, Discovery Team Manager

Are there penguins in the Arctic?

Penguins are found only in the southern hemisphere, and therefore seen in Antarctica - but not in the Arctic. The penguin did not evolve to fly, since there are few terrestrial predators in Antarctica. They lay their eggs in nests made of rocks on the cold hard ground. Puffins nest inside burrows dug above steep ridges and cliffs in the Arctic where they stay safe from predators and therefore must maintain the ability to fly to reach them. 

In South Georgia, many guests have seeing one of the largest King Penguin colonies in mind, but they are not the only species in this area. Macaroni penguins are also very prevalent with 3 million breeding pairs living in the area, making up the largest population in the world. 
“On a conventional expedition ship, you feel like you’ve done a great job if you’ve got Zodiac operations and maybe some kayaking going within half an hour. But on the Scenic Eclipse we have the helicopters flying, we’ve got the submarine going down to up to 300 metres, we’ve got the Zodiac fleets, the shore landings. There so many discovery opportunities for our guests and the ship is just an incredible platform for that.” 

James Griffiths, Captain, Scenic Eclipse

Why are there no polar bears in Antarctica?

Polar bears and narwhals are only found in the Arctic Circle and not in Antarctica. Polar bears evolved in the northern hemisphere, so they are well adapted to cold climates that they could not migrate to the Antarctic as they would not survive the transition through the hot tropical middle regions of the planet.

The main Antarctica region is completely devoid of land mammals, with its largest land creature less than 1.3 centimetre (0.51 inches) long insect – the wingless midge. The absence of vegetation and a land surface on which to support life has meant that the only mammals found in Antarctica are marine mammals. The Arctic, on the other hand, is home to approximately 48 species of terrestrial mammals including wolves, lemmings, Arctic hares, muskox, and reindeer. 

A Scenic Eclipse cruise presents the unique opportunity for you to get closer to the native flora and fauna than ever before. The Scenic Eclipse Discovery program is the backbone of voyages in Antarctica and the Arctic regions. Our 16-member expert Discovery Team will lead Scenic Discovery excursions on kayaks and Zodiacs that will take you past sunbathing fur seals, noisy penguin rookeries and calving glaciers. Wrapped up in your complimentary expedition parka and special polar boots, you will love the experience of disembarking and walking on actual sea ice to closely examine the inquisitive native wildlife.
Weddell Seal, Antarctica
“One of my most unforgettable moments would be in Mikkelsen Harbor, Antarctica. There are usually a few Weddell seals hauled out on the snow. This particular day one decided to worm his way right next to our flagged route, which leads to the penguin colony. As the seal was laying down unbothered by the traffic nearby, it starts to sing for us! Usually their noises are made mostly underwater, we were extremely lucky to be standing nearby when we heard the most fantastic noise made by any sea creature on the planet. Very rare and by far my most memorable Antarctic experience.” 

Adriaan Olivier, Discovery Team Naturalist Guide

Who lives in these distant lands?

People have inhabited the Arctic for thousands of years and today more than 2 million individuals live north of the Arctic Circle. The native groups found across the Arctic include the Inuit (Canada), Inupiat (Alaska), Yupik (Russia and Alaska), Chukchi (Russia), Kalaallit (Greenland), Sami (Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia). 

However, there are currently no permanent residents living in Antarctica – instead, research stations where many workers reside for long periods of time rotate staff, so none are considered permanent residents. If you combined all the workers at all the stations across all of Antarctica, then this would still only reach approximately 4,000 people in summer and 1,000 in winter.

During your Scenic Eclipse voyage through the polar regions, the on board specialist Discovery Team Leaders will enlighten you with unique insights and personal highlights on everything about the environment, history and culture of each region you visit. From learning about the ancient Viking Artic outposts and their historic significance, to tracing the steps of Ernest Shackleton’s epic journey of Antarctic exploration, you will be presented with anecdotes both onshore and on board in the high-tech Scenic Eclipse theatre – to deepen your understanding of the destination. 
Guests who have visited one polar region then want to explore the other polar area to make their own comparisons. Scenic Eclipse makes it possible to step into the heart of both these incredible vast frontiers and intimately understand their unique differences first-hand, in the most luxurious way possible. Book your Scenic Eclipse Antarctica and Arctic discovery voyages now and let 2021 and 2022 be the years you explore the earth’s polar regions
“I’ve been coming to Antarctica for about eight years and I keep coming because once you get the Antarctic bug you can’t get rid of it.” 

Jorge Villamarin, Discovery Leader

^Helicopter and submarine at additional cost, subject to regulatory approval, availability, weight restrictions, medical approval and weather and ice conditions.