Etched at the bottom of the world, Antarctica is as far south and remote as you can get. The seventh continent, as some call it, is covered in icebergs, glaciers, mountains and thick layers of snow. At first glance, Antarctica is vast and empty – with expansive ice fields stretching for miles without anything else in sight. But in reality, Antarctica is far from being empty.
The islands and slopes of Antarctica are home to hundreds of species of animals, ranging from tiny krill to mammoth whales. An expedition to Antarctica will bring you closer than you can ever imagine to the wildlife.
Not too long ago, I was traveling with G Adventures’ on their Antarctica Classic in Depth voyage aboard the MS Expedition. We saw wildlife every day – from the comfort of our ship, on the zodiacs, and in close proximity on foot. These wildlife encounters were so intimate and personal they almost moved me to tears.
For all the fellow wildlife buffs out there, here is a list of animals you can expect to see in Antarctica (not including the Sub-Antarctic islands).
Gentoos are the most common type of penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula, and we saw hundreds of them almost every day. These orange-beaked penguins are incredibly adorable, especially when they’re tobogganing down the slopes on their chest.
We hardly saw any Adelie Penguins as they’re not too common in the península, though we did find a lucistic one floating alone on an ice floe. Lucisim is a type of albinoism and a lucistic penguin tends to be brown instead of black. We were very lucky to find one since they’re really rare.
As its name implies, the chinstrap penguin has a black line across it chin. I was really looking forward to seeing this species of penguin because of its unique appearance and we finally saw them on our landing at Arctowski Station.
This was quite a common species of seal. We saw plenty of Weddell Seals in the photogenic Lemaire Channel, and also in Penola Strait; most of them were lounging on ice floes when we approached them. This one in particular was sleeping at Jougla Point, next to the water’s edge when we landed.
While cruising in Penola Strait, we came across a group of over 11 crabeater seals all lying close to one another on a big ice sheet. Our zodiac guide got as close as a few inches from them but they barely moved or looked disturbed.
Another creature I’d wanted to see was the leopard seal. These are the biggest predators in Antarctica, next to the orcas. They are known for their ferociousness and their sheer size (up to three meters in length). We came across this mother seal with its pup at Cuverville Island; you can see its snake-like head from this image.
With its obscure-looking nose and big blobberish body, the elephant seal is quite distinctive as compared to the other members of the seal family. On our last landing at Turret Point, we finally found an elephant seal haul out site and saw dozens of them huddled together in one biomass.
At the end of our voyage, as we sailed near King George Island, we spotted the humpbacks circling our ship. Cautiously, they approached closer and closer, gently breathing and making very shallow dives. By the time everyone had their cameras ready, the show was in full swing as the whales displayed giant flippers and flukes, and swimming under the bow.
Minke whales tend to be very shy and elusive, but we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of them feeding on the krill that were jumping from the water around the bow of the ship in Lemaire Channel. We followed closely and saw them peeking at us above the water surface from time to time.