Whale Watching in Antarctica
Antarctica presents a phenomenal opportunity to witness one of Earth’s most majestic marine animals within their natural habitat. There’s nothing quite like a pod of Killer Whales swimming together against a backdrop of stark white glaciers, towering mountains and endless dark seas. Or a Humpback Whale, hurling its enormous body into the air before crashing down into the icy water. It’s an astonishing sight not many people experience in their lifetime.
Read on to discover more about the tragic history of whaling in Antarctica, the different species encountered and how, with some careful planning, you can see these magnificent creatures in the wild!
Whaling in Antarctica
Since the beginning of human exploration in Antarctica, the Southern Ocean has been used as a hunting ground for whales. The thick layer of blubber that keeps whales alive in icy waters was used as a rare and valuable oil, in addition to a luxury meat in some countries.
Unfortunately, the demand for whale meat and oil increased during the industrial revolution of the 19th century which saw a sharp rise in whaling with some species pushed to the brink of extinction. Even decades after large-scale commercial whaling was banned, populations are still a fraction of their pre-whaling levels. Travellers have the opportunity to witness the impact of the past whaling era at Deception Bay.
Whale Species in Antarctica
There is a total of eight different whale species that you might encounter during your Antarctica trip, which can often surprise and delight many cruise goers.
Antarctica is the best place to observe one of the world’s most recognisable species – the Killer Whale (also known as Orcas). Home to over two-thirds of the global population, you are highly likely to witness this predator feeding on seals, fish, penguins and even other whales. Killer Whales love to put on a show, and you may even be lucky enough to spot one as it searches for a seal through the ice!
Another species commonly sighted is the Humpback whale. Humpbacks spend a great deal of time in shallow water and tend to move slowly, providing significant opportunities for photos. Minke Whales are also sighted regularly. They are curious creatures that love to get up close and personal with boats, so make sure you have your camera ready!
Other species you can expect to see during the cruise can include Sperm Whales, Sei Whales, Southern Right Whales and even the second largest animal on earth, the Fin Whale.
However, one of the most elusive species found in Antarctica, and the largest animal known to have ever lived on earth, is the Blue Whale. Weighing over 200 tonnes and growing up to 100 feet long, these whales are so rare that scientists cannot accurately determine how many are still in existence. Blue Whales feed on the abundance of krill commonly found in Antarctic waters and can consume over 5 tonnes of food per day when feeding! While not often spotted, your best chance of seeing this magnificent species in person is during the summer migration.
Best Time to Visit for Whale Watching
During the Antarctic summer, whales migrate south to take advantage of the nutrient-rich waters of the Southern Ocean, before heading north towards the warmer waters to breed and give birth to their calves during the winter months.
The best time to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures is later in the season, between February and March. Cruises around this period can also be slightly cheaper, although a lot of other wildlife will have already departed. While all of Antarctica provides opportunities for whale watching, Wilhelmina Bay is known to be the best spot, especially for viewing Humpback whales.
Click here for more information on the best time to visit Antarctica.
Dive Below the Surface
While the sights from the deck are incredible, there is an unexplored paradise below the surface. Many do not realise that scuba diving in Antarctica is a possibility, but for those with previous experience and sense for adventure, it can be the perfect addition to an Antarctic cruise. Antarctic waters remain untouched, allowing you to observe some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet. In addition to creatures such as jellyfish, sea butterflies, and soft coral, you may come into contact with larger animals including fur seals, penguins, and even the formidable Leopard seal.
It is important to note that Antarctic scuba diving is not for everyone. An international certification and cold-water diving experience are essential. It is imperative that you do not attempt deep dives or stunt dives due to the lack of a decompression chamber. However, with plenty of experience and the right approach, it can be the opportunity of a lifetime and the perfect addition to whale watching.
Have a Whale of a Time
While whale sightings can be difficult to come by, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of seeing these beautiful creatures in the wild. By choosing a cruise that stops at well-known whale sighting regions and visiting later in the season, you may just be able to catch a glimpse of some of the most elusive and largest animals on the planet. Even if you don’t manage to spot a whale, you’re sure to have the time of your life in Antarctica!
Check out this short whale watching video below by Quark Expeditions – It’s one of the best!
For more information on whale watching in Antarctica, contact our Antarctica cruise experts.
If you have any further questions regarding whale watching in Antarctica, please just contact us or leave a comment below.
Thank you, AntarcticaGuide Team