The theatre of wildlife in Antarctica as a whole displays an ever changing narrative of birth, struggle, pleasure, fulfilment and death. You may witness the comedy of a waddling penguin building its nest, a mother bird feeding its young or reuniting with a returning mate; a wily seal escaping the clutches of a hunting whale.
A large variety of marine birds visit the continent including 17 species of penguin, of which 4 breed in Antarctica (emperor, chinstrap, gentoo and Adélie). Mammals abound here: blue, orca, humpback, minke and southern right whales prowl the chilly ocean, while Weddell, Ross, crab-eater, leopard and elephant seals sprawl on the beaches.
Plant life in Antarctica proper is restricted to lichen, mosses and algae but there are hundreds of colourful varieties of these. There’s a greater range of plant-life thriving on the sub-Antarctic islands: in spring the Falklands are awash with flowers.
What to see as the season unfolds
December – January:
• Long days of summer light, milder temperatures.
• Penguin chicks hatch in the Falklands and South Georgia, then the Antarctic Peninsula.
• Seal pups born on South Georgia and the Falklands.
• Whale sightings increase.
• Excellent whale-watching opportunities.
• Penguin chicks begin to fledge.
• Fur seals increasingly numerous on the Antarctic Peninsula.
• Colourful snow algae break the snow white domination of the landscape.
• Spectacular sunrises and sunsets add a rosy glow to the ice.
Specific to your cruise:
Drake Passage and the Antarctic Convergence: Over 35 species of bird may accompany your crossing. Species include giant petrels, Antarctic fulmars, and the black-browed and wandering albatrosses with wingspans up to 3m.
65 species of birds breed here including 6 species of penguin, 12 of albatross and smaller petrels, over 30 of land-feeding birds. Marine birds form large colonies on the remote western islands. There are no native mammals: introduced species include rabbits, foxes, otters, guanacos and domestic and farm animals. The coasts are frequented by Southern sea-lions, Falkland Islands fur seals, and elephant seals. The harbours host leopard seals, killer whales, pilot whales, several species of dolphins and spectacled porpoises.
Breeding colonies of King, gentoo and macaroni penguins are to be found. Adélie, chinstrap, Magallenic and rockhopper penguins may also be spotted, with Antarctic giant petrels, snow petrels, snowy sheathbills, Antarctic and slender-billed prions, albatrosses and mollymawks. Elephant seals and over a million fur seals breed on the beaches, while leopard seals hunt around the penguin colonies.
South Shetland Islands:
Visitors include chinstrap, gentoo, macaroni and Adélie penguins; giant petrels, Wilson’s and black-bellied storm petrels, brown and south polar skuas, Cape pigeons, Antarctic terns, blue-eyed shags, Dominican gulls, elephant, fur,
leopard and crab-eater seals; humpback, minke and orca (killer) whales remain offshore.
Chinstrap, gentoo and Adélie penguins abound. Breeding birds include skuas, Antarctic terns, giant petrels, snowy sheathbills, Antarctic shags, kelp gulls, Wilson’s storm, Antarctic and snow petrels.