Wildlife of Antarctica






Wildlife In Antarctica

Antarctica, the southernmost continent, is home to some of the most diverse and resilient wildlife on Earth. Despite the harsh climate, a remarkable array of species thrives in this frozen wilderness. From the majestic wandering albatross soaring above the Southern Ocean to the playful gentoo penguins darting through icy waters, each creature is uniquely adapted to survive and flourish in its environment

You may be surprised to learn that even in Antarctica’s harsh environment, it’s teeming with life. But do you know the kinds of animals you can find along the southmost continent’s icy shores?

We’ve put together a quick overview of the kinds of animals you’ll likely encounter on your next trip to Antarctica.

Emperor penguin in Antarctica

When Should I Visit Antarctica To See The Wildlife?

The animals in Antarctica are most active during the Austral summer (November to February). Antarctic animals are also active in the islands near Antarctica (the Sub-Antarctic Islands) during October and March.

If you’re interested in observing the animals in Antarctica, October to March is the ideal time to visit.

The Animals of Antarctica


Of all the animals in Antarctica, penguins are the superstars. With around 75 million penguins on Antarctica’s shores, these Antarctic animals are both abundant and easy to observe.

Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)
  • Smallest of the “True Antarctic” penguins with an average height under 75 centimeters
  • Chiefly found in the Antarctic CircleThese Antarctic animals are found throughout the region, breeding chiefly within the Antarctic Circle
  • One of the few animals in Antarctica that are native to the area
Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus)
  • A “True Antarctic” penguin that’s native to the area
  • Have an average height of 70 centimeters
  • Named for a characteristic thin black line of feathers under their chins
Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)
  • A “True Antarctic” penguin that’s native to the area
  • Largest of the Antarctic penguins, reaching an average height over 120 centimeters
  • Generally, each Emperor couple produces one egg per year
  • The male Emperor penguin is the only warm-blooded Antarctica animal that remains in the Antarctic throughout the winter
Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua)
  • The fourth and final of the “True Antarctic” penguins
  • Reach an average height of 70 centimeters
  • Generally, stay in their colonies–which range from small to hosting several thousand birds–year-round
King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)
  • Have an average height of one meter
  • Can also be found in South Georgia and Argentine Patagonia, leading to them being called “Patagonian penguins”
  • King penguin couples are capable of producing two chicks every three years
Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)
  • Reach an average height of 70 centimeters
  • Eggs are often laid in pairs, but the chick in the smaller egg rarely survives
  • Notable features are their heavy bill and an eye-catching crest of yellow feathers across their brow
Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)
  • Are primarily found in coastal South America, from Brazil to Patagonia
  • Nest in holes, preferably beneath spiked bushes
  • Lays their eggs in pairs
Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome)
  • Also called Rockies and Jumping Jacks
  • Lay two eggs, though the chick in the smaller egg rarely survives
  • Their notable characteristic is the yellow feathers on their temples


Antarctica and the surrounding polar regions are home to nine species of whales, including the three largest-bodied animals on Earth!

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
  • The Humpback whale is the most common whale in the Antarctic
  • They’re surprisingly agile due to their flippers, which are the longest of any whale or dolphin
Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
  • Fin whales are not only the second largest animal in Antarctica, they’re the second largest living animal on the planet
  • You can identify them by looking for their different colored jaw and v-shaped chevron behind their head
Southern Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus intermedia)
  • Southern Blue Whales are the largest animals to EVER live on Earth
  • An adult blue whale eats four to six tons of krill every day
Fast Facts

Length: 52 to 56 Feet
Weight: About 90,000 Pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 50 Years
Blow: V-Shaped
Diet: Krill and Schooling Fish

Fast Facts
Length: About 89 Feet
Weight: Around 260,000 Pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 80 Years
Blow: Tall and Columnar
Diet: Krill and Schooling Fish
Fast Facts
Length: Up To 110 Feet
Weight: About 400,000 Pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 70 Years
Blow: Very Tall and Columnar
Diet: Krill and Pelagic Crabs
Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis)
  • Their name is pronounced like “sigh”
  • They can swim at up to 30 miles per hour!
Antarctic Minke Whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis)
  • One of the smallest baleen whales in Antarctica
  • Interestingly, the Killer Whale (Orca) has been known to feed on Minkes
Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis)
  • The only large whale in the Southern Hemisphere that lacks a dorsal fin
  • They have two blowholes, which create a distinctive V-shaped blow
Fast Facts
Length: About 64 Feet
Weight: About 100,000 Pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 50 Years
Blow: Tall and Columnar
Diet: Krill, Squid, Small Fish, and Copepods
Fast Facts
Length: About 35 Feet
Weight: About 20,000 Pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 50 Years
Blow: Rarely Visible
Diet: Krill and Schooling Fish
Fast Facts
Length: About 56 Feet
Weight: Around 200,000 Pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 70 Years
Blow: V-Shaped
Diet: Copepods and Occasionally Krill

Toothed Whales

Antarctica and the surrounding Antarctic region are home to three species of toothed whale

Killer Whale / Orca (Orcinus orca)
  • They have an iconic black body with white patches and prominent dorsal fin, along with a robust body
  • They’re ruthless, intelligent predators; they’ve been known to “play” with their food and have even been observed eating land mammals that swim, like deer and moose
Long-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas)
  • Like the orca, they have a black body with white patches, but they’re smaller
  • This Antarctica animal has long, backswept flippers, a bulbous head, and a smile-shaped mouth
Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
  • They are the largest-toothed whales, further distinguished by their disproportionately huge heads
  • Sperm whales are deep divers, hunting as deep as a mile below the surface. They’ll often dive for as much as 40 minutes and can dive for as long as two hours
Fast Facts
Length: About 30 Feet
Weight: Males Reach 12,000 Pounds; Females 8,400 Pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 55 Years for Males and 85 years for Females
Diet: Adaptable (everything from fish and squid, sea turtles, sharks, and large whales)
Fast Facts
Length: Males around 20 Feet; Females around 15.5 feet
Weight: Males reach 5,000 Pounds; Females reach 2,900 Pounds
Lifespan: Males Approximately 45 Years; Females 60 years
Diet: Fish and Squid
Fast Facts
Length: About 60 Feet
Weight: Males reach 120,000 Pounds; Females 55,000 Pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 65 Years
Blow: Bushy; Angled Forward and Left
Diet: Large and Medium-Sized Squid, Octopuses, and Bony Fish

Seals and Sea Lions

Antarctica and the surrounding region are home to six species of seal, four of which make their homes in ice habitats.

Antarctic Fur Seal (Arctocephalus gazella)
  • These Antarctica animals feature a short snout and gray to brown coat
  • Notably, female Antarctic fur seals are lighter in color than their male counterparts
Crabeater Seal (Lobodon carcinophaga)
  • Called “crabbies,” they’re easy to identify because of their smiles! Their unique teeth let them filter feed like whales
  • Crabeater seals have a light gray back, cream-colored belly, and dappled sides. They can dive deep (to 1,400 feet) to feed on krill
Southern Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus intermedia)
  • Southern Blue Whales are the largest animals to EVER live on Earth
  • An adult blue whale eats four to six tons of krill every day
Fast Facts
Length: Males up to 6’7”; Females 4’5”
Weight: Males reach 440 pounds; Females are less than 100 pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 15 years for Males; 23 years for females
Diet: Deep-water fish, Squid, and Penguins
Fast Facts
Length: Approximately 8’8”
Weight: Up to 510 Pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 20 Years; Possibly up to 30 years
Diet: Mostly Krill
Fast Facts
Length: Up To 110 Feet
Weight: About 400,000 Pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 70 Years
Blow: Very Tall and Columnar
Diet: Krill and Pelagic Crabs
Ross Seal (Ommatophoca rossii)
  • These seals can be identified by their short neck, thick chests, large eyes, and a blunt snout
  • Ross seals arch their necks and open their mouths when approached. They are one of the most vocal animals in Antarctica
Subantarctic Fur Seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis)
  • These Antarctica animals feature either a light orange or cream colored coat, as well as a short, pointed snout
  • You can find these seals in abundance outside of the Arctic, in the South Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans
South American Fur Seal (Arctocephalus australis)
  • This seal has a dark brown coat, along with a long, pointed snout and long, slender flippers
  • South American fur seals are another example of animals in Antarctica that are also found in a handful of countries in South America, including Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Peru, Chile, and the Falkland Islands
Fast Facts
Length: Up to 7’10”
Weight: Reaches 440 pounds
Lifespan: Unknown
Diet: Squid and Fish
Fast Facts
Length: Males up to 6’7”; Females up to 4’7”
Weight: Males Reach 350 Pounds; Females 110 Pounds
Lifespan: Males 20 years; Females 25 years
Diet: Primarily Deep-Water Fish
Fast Facts
Length: Males up to 6’3”; Females 4’7”
Weight: Males reach 440 Pounds; Females 110 Pounds
Lifespan: Unknown
Diet: Fish and Squid
Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonine)
  • This massive, bulky seal is best identified by the males’ distinctive nose with an inflatable nose sack. You’ll be able to see why they got their name!
  • Southern elephant seals are loud and vocal, and some of the noises they make will definitely make you laugh. But they’re also very aggressive, so be sure to keep a safe distance when observing
Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii)
  • This seal has a large, robust body but a small head, and you’ll likely notice their dappled sides
  • To access air, Weddell seals make and maintain holes in the sea ice with their teeth
South American (Southern) Sea Lion (Otaria flavescens)
  • The South American sea lion has a large, powerful body and short, blunt snout. Males have huge heads, and dark brown coasts. Females are light brown
  • South American sea lions are also on the list of animals in Antarctica that are also found in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Southern Brazil, and the Falkland Islands
Fast Facts

Length: Males up to 16’6”; Females 10′
Weight: Males Reach 11,000 Pounds; Females 2,000 Pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 15 years for Males; 23 years for Females
Diet: Deep-Water Fish and Squid

Fast Facts
Length: Approximately 11′
Weight: Up to 1,200 Pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 20 Years
Diet: Fish, Squid, Crabs, and Krill
Fast Facts
Length: males are up to 9 feet 2 inches, females can reach 7 feet 3 inches
Weight: males reach 770 pounds; females are much smaller at 310 pounds
Lifespan: Approximately 20 years
Diet: fish and squid

Flying Birds of Antarctica

During the Austral summer, Antarctica is home to 45 avian species. These birds congregate around the margins of the continent—on the coast and its islands.

Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus)
  • The Kelp gull is a strong flyer with beautiful plumage and bright yellow and red bill
  • Kelp gulls are wide-ranging, opportunistic, and intelligent
Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata)
  • The Antarctic tern is a very successful species with a wide distribution
  • They are distinguished by a streamlined shape, striking black cap, and red-orange bill
  • Antarctic terns are skilled hunters, hovering over the water before dipping in to capture small fish or krill
Antarctic Shag (Phalacrocorax [atriceps] bransfieldensis)
  • These blue-eyed birds have a dark, metallic-blue plumage
  • Antarctic shag are deep divers, harvesting kelp from the ocean as nest materials
  • Thought to be on their way to becoming flightless, these birds may very well be the penguins of the evolutionary future
Cape Petrel (Daption capense)
  • The Cape petrel is easily distinguished by its striking plumage pattern
  • The Cape petrel is a fast flyer; it feeds by nabbing prey at the surface or by hydroplaning
  • Known for their lovely call, males and females share nest building, incubation, and feeding of young
Sub-Antarctic Skua (Catharacta [skua] antarctica)
  • The Sub-Antarctic skua is a strong flyer and opportunistic scavenger
  • This species is bold and willing to take on groups of other birds, either by dive-bombing rookeries or approaching a nest on foot
Wilson’s Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus)
  • These remarkable birds have a powerful sense of smell
  • Often, while they are out at sea feeding, their entire nesting ground is covered by a thick blanket of snow. Even so, they locate their small nests with pinpoint accuracy
  • Even more impressively, Wilson’s storm petrels migrate each year between Antarctica and Greenland
Pale-faced Sheathbill (Chionis alba)
  • Extremely opportunistic; pale-faced Sheathbills are admirable survivors. This Antarctic animal will eat anything organic, including guano
  • Pale-faced Sheathbills are known for strong pair bonds
Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus)
  • Long-lived and far-flying, the Southern giant petrel possesses a remarkably sharp bill
  • Both parents are tenacious in defense of their eggs and chicks
  • In addition to their sharp bills, these ocean foragers have a surprising defense—they protect their nests by spitting a noxious mix of regurgitated food and oil at predators—from distances of up to three feet
Wandering Albatross (Diomedea [exulans])
  • The wandering albatross fully lives up to its name. Wide-ranging to the extreme, a banded member of this super-species traveled approximately 15,000 miles in nine weeks!
  • The wandering albatross is capable of flight speeds of over 50 miles per hour
Snow Petrel (Pagodroma [nivea] confusa)
  • Beautiful all-white plumage contrasted with black legs, bill, and eyes make this one of the most striking birds in Antarctica
  • These Antarctic animals overwinter in Antarctica, facing extreme cold, deprivation, days of darkness, and punishing winds
  • To escape predators, Snow Petrels nest in high cliffs, sometimes more than 100 miles inland, even though that requires them to commute to the sea and back for every meal

Want to know more about the Animals in Antarctica and opportunities to observe them in their natural habitat? Give LANDED a call.

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