One of the driest, coldest and darkest places on earth, Antarctica is a land of extremes, a frozen desert of incredible beauty and isolation. But even in this vast wilderness, wildlife thrives. In fact, almost every person who visits the White Continent on an Antarctica cruise, does so with the sole purpose of viewing its rich diversity of wildlife.
The coldest place on earth is home to some of the most well-known animals on earth, including Emperor Penguins, Leopard seals, Orcas, Albatross and Blue whales. During the summer months, marine wildlife turn up in Antarctica on a grand scale, the likes of which is not seen anywhere else on the planet.
No where else in the world can you sit two feet from a penguin or feel the spray from a whales blow hole. Antarctica cruises are completely unique and offer visitors a wildlife experience like no other. To give you an idea on the possible types of wildlife you could see on your Antarctica cruise, we have provided an overview of some of the main Antarctica wildlife species. If you want more information, please click the links and you’ll be taken to a specific page.
Much of Antarctica’s early exploration was an attempt to find new seal colonies. Seals were frequently hunted for their valuable oil and skins and, because of this, entire species were almost wiped out. Thankfully, seals are now protected and their numbers are once again thriving. Because of the rich marine life and lack of polar bears, seals are far more common in Antarctica than they are in the Arctic.
There are over 35 species of seal worldwide, However, only 6 species are found in Antarctica. The 6 species are Antarctic Fur Seals, Leopard Seals, Ross Seals, Crabeater Seals and Weddell Seals. Because of their lack of predators, Antarctica seals show little fear towards humans. This is great for photographers and wildlife lovers as you can get very close!
Most of the year seals will spend at sea, however, during breeding season they must return to land. The pack ice surrounding Antarctica is the most popular place for seals, as well as the outlying islands like South Georgia and the Falklands. These islands will often get over a million seals in the breeding season!
Penguins are the charmers of Antarctica and manage to win over every tourists heart. Their charismatic behaviour lends themselves to photographers and, like Antarctica seals, most penguins are unperturbed by humans.
Like seals, penguins spend most of their lives in the water where their powerful paddles muscles allow them to reach speeds of up to 25 mph! Sleek, quick and fluid in the water, penguins on land are a sharp contrast to this, waddling and flapping about.
Out of the 17 species of penguins found world-wide, only 7 are found in Antarctica. The 6 species are Adélies, Gentoos, Chinstraps, Macaronis, Rockhoppers, kings and, the most famous of all, Emperor penguins. Penguins either feed on krill or small fish and, although very shortsighted on land, penguins have exceptional vision under water.
Whilst Emperor penguins are the biggest and most well-known penguin, they are also the most difficult to spot. Unlike other Antarctic penguins, Emperor penguins breed in winter and tend to occupy areas further in land. However, the King penguin is far easier to find and you’ll be able to walk next to entire colonies in South Georgia. To see the emperor penguin your best Antarctica cruise option is the Weddell Sea Cruise.
The Antarctic Peninsula is home to literally millions of penguins and your Antarctica cruise operator will know the best spot to see different species. Chin strap penguins will inhabit rocky areas away from ice – such as on Deception Island. Adelie penguins tend to like pack ice areas and Gentoo penguins can be found in the northerly areas such as the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Shetland Islands.
One of the most fascinating and popular animals in Antarctica, whales are the stars of the deep. Their colossal size mixed with their elusive nature, only serves to build our interest around these creatures.
There are 7 species of whale found in Antarctica – Blue whale, Killer whale, Sperm whale, Humpback whale, Minke whale, Southern right whale, Sei whale and the Fin whale.
Whales are extremely intelligent animals and often demonstrate extensive social life, including one of the most advanced forms of communication in the animal kingdom. Families of Killer whales are a favourite among tourists and spotting these beautiful creatures popping their heads up to search for prey is a stunning sight.
Although not common, Blue whales patrol the Antarctic seas and sighting are not as rare as you might expect. Nothing on the planet can compare to seeing the largest creature to ever have lived pass by your boat.
There is no knowing where and when you may spot a whale, however, there are certain locations that are popular for whales and your cruise operator should take you to these locations. A good spot is Paradise bay for Humpback whales.
Every year millions of Antarctic seabirds breed along the peninsula and the outlying islands. There are 35 species of birds found in Antarctica, however, only 19 of these actually breed here.
Due to the small amount of snow-free nesting areas, Antarctica seabirds tend to gather in extraordinary numbers to breed. These huge concentrated gatherings are ideal for bird lovers and photographers! Most birds will leave Antarctica as the summer months come to a close to search out more temperate climates.
The most notable Antarctica seabird is the Albatross. With the largest wingspan in the world, Albatrosses glide gracefully through the skies and often cover over 500 miles in one day. 17th century sailors believed that the dead were reincarnated as Albatrosses and were always careful never to kill one.
Another star species is the Blue Eyed Imperial Shag. These impressive birds are abundant in the region, particularly along the Scotia Arc Islands and are the only member of the cormorant family to venture this far south.
If you have further questions about any of the Antarctica wildlife mentioned above, please just leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours.
Thank you and happy travels!