Wildlife in the Antarctic

Much like its landscape, Antarctica’s wildlife is unique and awe-inspiring. The continent’s deep, icy ocean, harsh winds, and snow-packed shores make it an uninviting environment for many animals. However, though this landmass may seem barren, it’s actually home to a rich and diverse ecosystem. The wildlife that lives there has adapted over millennia to thrive in the frozen wilderness.

From tiny crustaceans to the largest birds on the planet, let’s take a look at the incredible wildlife of Antarctica.

What’s the Antarctic climate like?

It’s no surprise that Antarctica is known as ‘The White Continent.’ Made up of 90% of the Earth’s ice, it makes for a striking white landscape, contrasted only by the intense blue sea and the animals that call it home.

Though it may be far from the hot, arid landscape of the Sahara, Antarctica’s lack of rainfall means it is in fact a desert — the largest desert in the world.

Temperatures can drop as low as -60℃ in the Antarctic mountains and -30℃ lower down, making it a challenging habitat for most species. So who lives there?

Flora and fauna of the Antarctic

Some rather fascinating characters have carved out an existence in this unlikely corner of the world…

Penguins

For many, penguins are the headline act when it comes to visiting Antarctica — and they certainly are iconic. Seven species of penguins live in Antarctica, and each has its own charming characteristics.

From petite Adélie and Chinstrap penguins to the majestic Emperor penguins, these flightless creatures are the most abundant birds in the Antarctic. Around 12 million penguins live on the Antarctic Peninsula, where conditions are relatively mild.

If you want to see impressive courtship displays, November is the best month to visit Antarctica’s penguins.

Plants

The image most of us see when we think about Antarctica is a vast white expanse of dense snow and ice. But have you ever wondered if there are any plants tucked in there somewhere? As you might imagine, the Antarctic’s climate makes cultivating flowers somewhat tricky.

You won’t find any trees or shrubs on the White Continent, but lichen, moss, and algae grow along the coast. There are also two types of flowering plants along the Antarctic Peninsula and on the South Orkney Islands and the South Shetland Islands. Antarctic hair grass and Antarctic pearlwort add a touch of yellow and green vibrancy to the stark white landscape.

Blue whales

If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of one of the most magical creatures on the planet: the Antarctic blue whale. Weighing about the same as 33 elephants and reaching up to 30 metres long, this impressive creature is the largest animal on Earth.

Sadly, blue whales are critically endangered, making a sighting all the more special.

Orcas

Although they are known as ‘killer whales,’ orcas are actually a member of the dolphin family. These sleek marine mammals are the largest carnivores on the planet and are at the top of the food chain in Antarctica. They’re also incredibly intelligent, powerful, and striking to see.

Seals

Often falling prey to orcas, seals are another abundant species in Antarctica. In the Antarctic, you may see six different species of seal: Leopard Seals, Ross Seals, Southern Elephant seals, Crabeater Seals, Weddell Seals, and Antarctic Fur Seals.

How do seals cope with the extreme Antarctic climate? Well, they have a thick layer of blubber and fur to keep them warm, making them well suited to the environment. In fact, sometimes seals get too hot and need to take an icy dip!

Birds

Aside from penguins, there are plenty of other birds to spot in Antarctica. From terns and petrels to shearwaters and shags, there are over 46 species of birds enjoying the fresh Antarctic air.

Perhaps the most impressive is the albatross. With a wingspan of up to 11 feet (3.35 metres), this colossal bird is the largest in the world. As well as its size, the albatross is known for its elaborate courtship ritual — a dancing display that bonds a couple for life.

Krill

They may be minuscule, but krill are an intrinsic part of the Antarctic ecosystem. The small, shrimp-like creatures are at the bottom of the food chain (with only phytoplankton beneath). You may not see them, but krill will be keeping the Antarctic wildlife going — particularly the whales, for whom krill are the primary source of sustenance.

Are there polar bears in the Antarctic?

When you think of the icy tundra, you may well picture regal polar bears making their way across the snow. However, there aren’t any polar bears in the Antarctic!

Most polar bears live north of the Arctic Circle, but you may also spot some in Hudson Bay in Canada.

Explore the Antarctic with Swan Hellenic

Antarctica is a breathtaking place to visit. There are so many incredible landscapes to see — from epic blue glaciers and the mysterious depths of the ocean to soaring mountain peaks. Depending on the time of year you visit, you may see adorable hatching penguin chicks, an albatross mating dance, or groups of migrating whales.

If you’re ready to embrace the icy landscape of the White Continent, why not do so in sophisticated style? With a Swan Hellenic cruise, you can appreciate the awe-inspiring wilderness and enjoy the sumptuous amenities of a luxury cruise. With the opportunity to go ashore and see the Antarctic wildlife close-up (at a distance that’s safe for both you and the animals), you can also learn all about the flora and fauna of the area with fascinating presentations from our wildlife experts.

For a memorable trip like no other, experience the outstanding beauty and captivating creatures of Antarctica. Take a look at our Antarctic expedition cruises and get ready to immerse yourself in the extraordinary wilderness.