Common eiders, prized for their soft, warm down feathers, were declining when this 272- square-mile (705-km2) zapovednik was established in 1932 to protect them from commercial collectors who not only took the down from nests, mostly for export, but often from the birds themselves, killing them and collecting their eggs as well.
This protected place provides sanctuary to many thousands of eiders and others along the north coast of the Barents Sea and on some 350 islands in the White Sea above the arctic circle— more than 270 species of birds as well as marine mammals and rare plants.
The cacophony can be deafening 24 hours a day when tens of thousands of birds of some 50 species are in concentrated residence during the two months when the sun never dips below the horizon—thin- and thick-billed murres on largest ledges, making no nests but securing their one egg between their feet and covering it with their abdomens. Razorbills do the same but in more protected cliffside niches.
Black-legged kittiwakes, eiders, and Atlantic puffins prefer outskirts of the squabbling colonies. Oystercatchers are among the noisiest—but so are arctic terns, mew gulls, and goldeneyes, among others.
White-tailed sea eagles circle above, along with such uncommon raptors as golden eagles, gyrfalcons, ospreys, and peregrines. Smaller tundra-nesters include Lapland buntings and meadow pipits. In forests inland are capercaillies, black, hazel and willow grouse, and eagle owls with such mammals as blue hares and, among predators, wolves, foxes, wolverines, lynx, bears as well as pine martens, ermines, and weasels, all of which occasionally ford icy waters out to larger islands.
Bearded and ringed seals form breeding colonies as soon as ice starts to melt. Whales visit coastal waters, though only white (aka beluga) whales in significant numbers—often several dozen in Kandalakshsky Bay, several hundred in the Barents Sea.
Greatest threats are oil spills and continuous pollution from oil products in the upper bay.