The theatre of wildlife in Antarctica displays an ever-changing narrative of birth, struggle, pleasure, fulfilment and death. Whether you time your visit to coincide with the pristine snows of the Antarctic spring (November), the endless days of mid-summer (January) or the March whale-watching season, a rich wildlife experience is practically assured.
Among Antarctica’s large variety of marine birds, four species of penguin (Emperor, chinstrap, gentoo and Adélie) breed on Antarctica proper, while the Falkland Islands and South Georgia host colonies of king penguins. Mammals abound: 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.
Drake Passage and the Antarctic Covergence
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.
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-eyes shags, Dominican gulls, elephant, fur, leopard and crab-eater seals; humpback, minke and orca (killer) whales 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. Also seen are leopard seals, Antarctic fur, crab-eater, Weddell and Southern elephant seals; humpback, minke and killer whales.
Leopard seals bask on the ice floes, Adélie penguins throng on Paulet Island and a colony of emperor penguins is to be found on Snow Hill Island.
65 species of birds breed here including 6 species 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. The harbours host leopard seals, killer whales, pilot whales, several species of dolphin and spectacles porpoises.
Breeding colonies of king, gentoo, macaroni penguins are to be found, chinstrap, Magallenic and rockhopper penguins may also be spotted , with Antarctic giant petrels, snow petrels, snowy sheathbills, Antarctic and slender-billed prions, albatrosses, mollymawks. Elephant seals, and over a million fur seals breed on the beaches, leopard seals hunt on around the penguin colonies.
Ross Sea and Ice Shelf
The wildlife highlight here is the presence of colonies of the regal emperor penguin, the largest of the species, usually present between October and early December.