Wildlife in the Antarctic
The region’s spectacular wildlife rely on the Southern Ocean to provide the food on which they flourish. Immense numbers of creatures surround the rocky coast and ice floes, providing passing cruise ships with a living gallery of the natural fauna of this wonderful and little-experienced treasure.
Huge flocks of birds hunt at sea and return to roost and nest in vast numbers. Seals too form extensive breeding colonies on the shore, safe in the knowledge that there are no land-based predators to threaten their vulnerable pups.
During a summer Antarctic cruise, you could see whales migrating south to harvest the abundant krill which proliferate with the coming ‘warmth’. These krill are the basis of the food chain which sustains the many spectacular creatures. A summer visit guarantees 18 hours of daylight along with crisp clear light conditions, ideal for enjoying nature at its best.
Penguins are the most common birds and four species are considered to be true Antarctic penguins - Adelie, Chinstrap, Emperor and Gentoo. Flightless, these unique birds appear clumsy on land as they sway and waddle. On entering the sea though, they demonstrate the grace and skills that have seen them master their harsh environment.
Away from the land, ice and sea, the sky may be filled with fast, fierce Skuas on the hunt. At sea they bully other birds so that they drop their catch; on land, they may be seen lurking close to raucous penguin colonies. Antarctic Terns, with their swept-back wings and graceful forked tails, are the most elegant of fliers. In contrast to this classic elegance is the mighty albatross, its huge wingspan spread wide to soar and glide. Once feared by superstitious seafarers, today you would be blessed by the sight of one of these magnificent birds.
On and beneath the sea, seals, like penguins so seemingly clumsy on land, demonstrate their agility in the water. Fur, Weddell, crabeater and elephant seals may all be seen as bobbing heads in the ocean or lumbering in rocky coves or on ice floes with their pups. A bull elephant seal may weigh up to four tonnes, quite a sight as he jealously guards his harem of females against rivals.
While on an Antarctica cruise, you should keep your eyes peeled for whales. Blue, right, sei, humpback, minke, fin, and sperm whale arrive in summer to sieve krill by the tonne through their enormous mouths. You may also catch sight of the Orca, or killer whale, as it remorselessly hunts down seal and penguins.