Poles Apart: Comparing the Arctic and the Antarctic Polar regions

Antarctica and the Arctic; on the surface, these fabled regions appear similar. Each is located at the edge of the map, where the world turns on its axis. Both are pristine and ice-covered, characterised by their wild elements and supreme natural beauty. And together, they play host to some of the natural world’s most beloved wildlife – from walruses and polar bears, to the majestic emperor penguin.

But for all their similarities, the Arctic and Antarctica are poles apart – separated not just by distance, but by geography, wildlife, and human influence. And it’s these differences which make each region so compelling and unmissable, cementing them as the ultimate beyond-the-horizon destinations for those travelling on board the World’s First Discovery Yacht, Scenic Eclipse.

With an ice rating of Polar Class 6, Scenic Eclipse can transport you to the wild wonder of the Poles in unrivalled comfort, luxury and safety. Never before have these enchanting, untouched regions felt so within reach – our ultra-luxury discovery yacht affording seamless passage to worlds scarcely seen.

Capable of accessing locations other ships simply cannot, the Scenic Eclipse is your gateway to wonder. Close encounters are all but guaranteed thanks to the ship’s collection of on board discovery vehicles, including two state-of-the-art discovery helicopters and Scenic Neptune, our 6-seater submarine*. So, from land, air or sea, the extraordinary wildlife and landscapes of the Arctic and Antarctica are yours to savour.

As a means of bringing you closer to the spectacular wonder of the Poles and showcasing a little of what awaits on a Scenic discovery voyage, we spoke to Jason Flesher, Manager of Scenic Eclipse’s 16-member expert Discovery Team. Jason has served as Lead Antarctic Expedition Guide on some 2,041 polar expeditions, helping people of all ages and backgrounds to experience the very best of these timeless destinations.

Here, Jason shares his insight and expertise, and touches on what you can expect as part of a Scenic Eclipse voyage to the Arctic and Antarctica.

“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

Which Countries own the Arctic and Antarctica?

The first thing to remember about how the Arctic and Antarctica differ is that one is a continent surrounded by ocean (Antarctica) and the other is ocean surrounded by land. This is crucial not only from an ownership perspective, but also helps explain why and how the regions differ in their climate, geography and native species.

No single country owns either the Arctic and Antarctica. In the Arctic Circle, the ocean is disputed, while the land is divided into territories between eight countries, including Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark, and Iceland.

The Antarctic is different again, with no single country having a permanent stake in the continent. Instead, in 1961, several countries signed the Antarctic Treaty, banning military activity and sovereign claims in the region.

On how the unique geography of the Poles affects Scenic Eclipse itineraries, Jason remarks:

“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

Do Penguins Live in the Arctic?

A common misconception surrounding the Arctic and Antarctica is that the two regions share the same wildlife, but this isn’t the case. Penguins, for example, are found only in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning you won’t see any at the Arctic. The reverse is true of the polar bear, whose majestic form can only be seen amid the frozen seas and wild tundra of the Arctic Circle.

Since there are no terrestrial predators in Antarctica, the penguin didn’t evolve to fly, but several species have proliferated across the region – from the king penguin of South Georgia to the macaroni penguin, which can be seen throughout the Antarctic Peninsula.

“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?

The mighty polar bear has evolved and adapted to the harsh elements of the Arctic Circle, but is not native to Antarctica. As they evolved in the upper reaches of the Northern Hemisphere, they simply couldn’t survive the journey south through warmer climes – and have thus become one of the most iconic animals to see at the North Pole.

One of the key differences between the Arctic and Antarctica is that Antarctica supports no land mammals, its absence of vegetation making it unsuitable for all but a minority of terrestrial life. In contrast, the Arctic is home to some 48 land mammals, from wolves and lemmings, to reindeer, Arctic foxes and, of course, the wonderful polar bear.

Naturally, a highlight of any Scenic Eclipse voyage is the opportunity to encounter the rare, enchanting wildlife of the polar regions – whether that’s the plentiful marine mammals of Antarctica or the graceful land predators and prey of the Arctic region. Our expert Discovery Team will lead you on unique discovery tours, utilising Scenic Eclipse’s fleet of kayaks and zodiacs to bring you closer than ever before to the extraordinary wildlife of our polar regions.

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

How Have Humans Influenced the Arctic and Antarctica

The human experience of the Arctic differs greatly from that of Antarctica. People have lived among the glaciers, mountains, lakes and frozen seas of the Arctic Circle for thousands of years, and today has a population of some two million permanent residents, including native groups such as the Inuit (Canada), Inupiat (Alaska), Yupik (Russia and Alaska), Chukchi (Russia), Kalaallit (Greenland), Sami (Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia).

In contrast, Antarctica was only discovered several centuries ago, and even today, the continent has no permanent population. Since the 19th century, teams of researchers from several different countries have lived and worked at research bases throughout the region, but as they’re rotated on a regular basis, they aren’t considered residents. Indeed, if you were to combine all the researchers on Antarctica at any one time, the number would be fewer than 1,000 in the winter and just 4,000 in the milder summer months.

As well as introducing you to the unique wildlife and natural features of the polar regions, our Discovery Team will share their unique insight and expertise on the history and culture of the Arctic and Antarctica as you travel between each new spectacular destination. From ancient Viking strongholds and tales of Norse explorers like Erik the Red, to the exploits of Ernest Shackleton and his quest to put Antarctica on the map; our unforgettable itineraries help you uncover every aspect of these extraordinary lands.
“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.

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