Arctic Food Web


The term algae is used to describe thousands of different kinds of plant-like organisms that grow in water. Like plants, most algae produce energy from the sun through photosynthesis, but unlike plants, algae has no root system or leaves. Instead, it floats near the surface of oceans and lakes where it can receive sunlight. The largest algae is seaweed. Just as grass and other plants form the bottom of the food chain on land, algae is an important source of food at the bottom of the marine food chain. Algae also forms special symbiotic relationships with some marine organisms—for example, algae grows inside the protective ridges on sea sponges and provides much of the oxygen for the sponge.

    Arctic Fox

The Arctic fox has a gray, or blue coat in the summer and a thick, warm white coat in the winter. They molt twice each year with the changing of the seasons. The foot pads of an Arctic fox are also densely furred so that they can travel on the snow and ice hunting for prey. The arctic fox feeds on lemmings, voles, squirrels, birds, bird eggs, berries, fish and carrion. In the winter the fox will follow polar bears hoping to eat the bear's leftovers. The Arctic fox has to be very sly or it will become the polar bear's dinner! In the winter they dig through the snow to capture lemmings. They have an excellent sense of hearing, which helps pinpoint the location of snow-covered prey.


Auks are a species of marine bird common in the Arctic Ocean. Auks look and behave a little bit like penguins, but the two species are not genetically related—they simply have adapted to the same conditions. Unlike penguins, Auks can fly—but not very well, compared to other birds. Instead, their wings are designed to make them more efficient underwater swimmers. This allows the birds to chase krill and other small fish, which make up their diet. Auks do not thrive except in the cold Arctic waters, because the cold water temperatures slow the small fish upon which the birds feed.
    Cod & other Fish

Arctic Cod: The Arctic cod lives all over the Arctic and the furthest north of any other marine fish. It temperatures best below 40° (4°C), and it is one of the few fish that thrives in temperatures below 32° F  (0°C). Antifreeze proteins in its blood are one adaptation responsible for this ability. This fish is very important to the Arctic food web and is the number one food source for narwhals, belugas, ringed seals, and seabirds. The age of an Arctic cod can be determined by counting annual rings of growth in its otoliths, the tiny bones in their inner ear, much like counting the rings of a tree.

These gull-like birds life on krill and other small Arctic fish and crustaceans. Fulmars nest on bare cliff ledges, where they lay and hatch just one egg per season. To protect their young or themselves, Fulmars can spit up a foul stomach oil—spraying it as far as 2 meters—which coats the fur or feathers of predators and can actually kill the birds’ enemies. Fulmars are extremely long lived, and can grow to be 40 years old.
    Glaucous Gull

The Glaucous Gull is one of the largest and fiercest birds in the gull family. In addition to fish and smaller marine life forms, it will prey on small birds or land animals if it has the chance. The birds breed in the Arctic, where they hatch 2 to 4 eggs each season, and they migrate to the North Atlantic, and as far south as northern Mexico, during the winter months.
    Krill & Prawns

Krill and prawns are tiny, shrimp-like creatures that live in virtually every marine ecosystem in the world. They are extremely important species, as they serve as food for a huge variety of animals, fish, and birds. Krill spend their days deep below the surface and come up at night to the top of the ocean. They swim together in large schools. Some species, when under attack, can instantly shed their outer shell to confuse predators. Although restaurants use the terms prawn and shrimp interchangeably, they are two unique animal cousins.
    Polar Bear

Polar bears spend much of their life on the sea ice. Their coats are made up of water repellent guard hairs combined with a dense underfur that covers to the bottom of their feet. Polar bears have short, thickly furred snouts and ears that minimize heat loss to the environment. They have black skin, black tongue and black paws, but if you take each individual hair it is actually clear and it is hollow. The black skin increases the air temperature close to its skin when the sun shines on it and this air is then trapped in its coat of hollow hairs.  They also have an extreme sense of smell. Polar bears can smell a seal up to one mile away or under three feet of ice.
    Seals (Ringed/Bearded)

Ringed Seals: Seals swim in Arctic waters eating fish like arctic cod as well as crustaceans and mollusks. They are great divers and can stay under water for long periods of time without returning to the surface for a breath. Their rear flippers are turned backward. This improves their swimming, but makes it difficult to move around on land because their toes point backwards. Try walking around with your toes pointing backwards!  Instead they prefer sliding around on the ice. Ring seal is the smallest seal there is; adults measure about 5 feet (1.5 m) long and weigh only 110 lbs (50) kg with a thick layer of blubber that keeps them warm. They are brown to bluish black in color with irregular creamy rings. The ringed seal spends most of its time beneath the ice. It digs up through the ice with its strong claws to open breathing holes and must keep pushing it nose through the ice to keep the holes from icing over.
    Snails & Mussels

Snails and mussels are mollusks—animals low on the Arctic marine food web. Marine snails are one of thousands of animals classified as gastropods. They eat algae and also dead creatures on the sea bed near shore. Mussels are known as bivalve mollusks, because like clams and oysters, they have two shells that are joined by a hinge. Mussels eat microscopic sea creatures which they filter out of the ocean water. Both mussels and snails are ancient creatures that are found in the fossil record going back hundreds of thousands of years. They are found in all parts of the world.