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August 17th, 2016

Antarctica wildlife: what to see, when and where

The theatre of wildlife in Antarctica 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.

Among a large variety of marine birds, there are 17 species of penguin, of which four 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 Falkland Islands are awash with flowers.

Grey Headed Albatross

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 Penguins

Antarctic Peninsula

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.

Weddell Sea

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.

Falkland Islands

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.


South Georgia

Breeding colonies of king, gentoo, 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, mollymawks. Elephant seals, and over a million fur seals breed on the beaches, leopard seals hunt on around the penguin colonies.

Emperor Penguin

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.


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