Antarctic animals and wildlife
Life not only survives in Antarctica’s extreme environment, it thrives. Its icy seas, isolated icebergs, and snow-driven deserts are home to wildlife that surprise and charm all who visit them.
It goes without saying that Antarctica’s sub-zero temperatures and harsh winds make for a very unpleasant habitat. For most animals. The animals that live here aren’t like most animals, though. Each one tells an inspiring story of adaptability, resilience, and cooperation.
Which animals live in Antarctica Let’s meet a few.
A seal sanctuary
Due to their thick layer of blubber and fur, Antarctic seals are extremely well adapted to the freezing conditions. They even find the climate too warm, often having to take plunges into the icy water to cool down.
The crabeater seal is by far the most abundant and commonly seen in Antarctica. It’s named for its ability to devour krill, which could be described as tiny crabs. The adorable Weddell seals spend most of their time below the surface but can be found on the ice during their breeding season (November and December).
Whales, the giants of the sea
Antarctica is one of the world’s top whale-spotting places. During the Antarctic summer (October to March), about 10 species of whales migrate south to Antarctica to breed and feed. February and March are generally considered the best months for whale watching, with a greater variety of species and larger numbers of whales to see.
As soon as we start crossing the Drake Passage, it is common to spot blue, fin, humpback, minke, orcas, southern right wales, and sperm whales close to the ship. Once we’re in the Antarctic Peninsula, they can appear out of nowhere and may even pop up next to you when you are on smaller boats (RIBs) or kayaking.
Penguins, Antarctic icons
Eight of the world’s 17 species of penguins can be found in Antarctica and in the sub-Antarctic area. They include Adélie, Chinstrap, Gentoo, King, Macaroni, Rockhopper, Emperor, and Magellanic penguins. Around 12 million penguins reside in the relatively mild conditions of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Going ashore to visit a penguin colony is an experience you’ll never forget. Yes, they can be very loud, and no one will ever describe their smell as enchanting, but you won’t care. We’ll keep our distance so as not to disturb them. Even so, witnessing these charming creatures shuffling around as they go about their business is something that will stay with you forever.
A birdwatching bonanza
Penguins aren’t the only birds in Antarctica. In fact, Antarctica is a birdwatcher’s paradise that draws millions of birds across 46 species. From the deck of the expedition ship or during landings, keep your eyes peeled for Wandering Albatross, shearwaters, Giant Petrels, Storm Petrels, Blue-eyed Shags, Diving Petrels, cormorants, sheathbills, skuas, gulls, and terns.
Other animals in Antarctica
Although it is devoid of land animals, the surrounding ocean is home to an array of wildlife that visitors on Antarctic cruises might not expect to see. From albatross to leopard seals to the blue whale, these cold seas brim with life.
Distinguished by its atypical combination of a white head and black brow, the Black-browed Albatross is a stunning sight. These giants have the longest wingspan of any bird—up to 11 feet wide. Since they're rarely seen on land, albatross use their wide wings to ride the ocean winds and can sometimes glide for hours without a flap of their wings. They also drink saltwater, so they don’t need to worry about stopping on land except to mate and raise their young. Many of these winged wonders can live as long as 50 years.
The Antarctic midge
Antarctica’s only purely land animals are bugs (since seals and penguins spend part of their lives in the water)! These tiny bugs are fascinating, as they’re the only creatures that can survive on Antarctica's surface. They handle the winter by going into a sort of hibernation, where they can survive dehydration and being in a frozen state. In fact, the Antarctic midge lives most of its life in larval form, frozen in ice and is amazing in its ability to survive massive temperature swings.
Often called ‘killer whales’, these striking creatures are not part of the whale family. Instead, the toothed mammal is the largest member of the dolphin family and is highly social, traveling in groups called pods. Like dolphins, orcas use echolocation—bouncing sound off of objects to determine their location—to feed on fish, squid, birds, and other animals. When born, a calf can weigh nearly 400 pounds and measure up to 7 feet in length.
The leopard seal is named for its spotted fur coat. Famous for their fierce nature, these animals are one of the primary predators in Antarctica, using their powerful jaws and long teeth to hunt fish, squid, penguins, and even other seals. If you’re lucky, you might even see a seal snare a bird as it enters the cold waters. Fun fact: As ‘true’ seals, leopard seals have no ear flaps, but possess an internal ear canal that leads to an external opening.
As the giants of the sea, blue whales can grow as long as 100 feet and weigh more than 120 tons. Their tongues alone can weigh as much as an elephant weighs! While blue whales look pure blue underwater, the distinguished observer will notice during a breach that the mammal is more of a mottled blue-gray. Their underbellies take on a yellowish coloring due to the millions of microorganisms that live on their skin.
Krill sit near the bottom of the food chain. They are small, shrimp-like crustaceans that fuel the Earth’s marine ecosystems. You might never see these tiny swimmers on an Antarctica cruise, but rest assured they are swimming underneath the ship, feeding on microscopic phytoplankton. As one of nature’s ironies, the blue whale—the largest animal to roam the Earth—survives off of the tiny little krill.
Off of the shores of the southernmost continent of Earth, guests can encounter a range of eye-capturing animal life.