A young female fox, just shy of her first birthday, surprised scientists by covering unimaginable distance during a short four-month trek. The animal, also known as a coastal or blue fox, traveled more than 2,700 miles from Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard Archipelago of Norway, to Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada. The journey is among the longest dispersal events ever recorded for the species.
Researchers from the Norwegian Polar Institute first met the fox with a tracking collar in 2017 and released her into nature as part of a larger and continuing study about the spatial ecology of Arctic foxes, according to a report lead by researchers Eva Fuglei and Arnaud Tarroux.
For months the fox stayed along the coastline of western Spitsbergen. Toward the end of March 2018, she took off, changing directions several times when she met open water.
After finding ice-covered sea for the first time, the fox left Spitsbergen. Having traveled for 21 days and about 939 miles, she arrived in Greenland on April 16, 2018.
Then, in 2010 an adult female Arctic fox in the Canadian Arctic set off on a journey. She traveled more than 2,800 miles in total but over a longer period of 5.5 months. She used sea ice to connect remote regions, as did the Svalbard fox which ultimately came on Canada’s Ellesmere Island on July 1, 2018.
By crossing long stretches of sea and ice glacier during her journey, the fox highlighted “the unusual movement capacity of this small-sized carnivore species,” the report stated.
The fox’s average traveling speed differed greatly throughout her trip, traveling a mean of about 28 miles per day. Her fastest recorded movement rate was about 96 miles per day while crossing the ice sheet in northwestern Greenland. This shows that she was using sea ice mostly to help her travel, rather than as a place to search for food.
“This is, to our knowledge, the fastest movement rate ever recorded for this species,” the researchers stated. In comparison, the young fox was 1.4 times faster than the maximum rate of the earlier recorded adult male Arctic fox observed in Alaska.