Wildlife of Antarctica

A Guide to Antarctic Animals

In planning your trip to the Antarctic, you may be wondering: What animals live in Antarctica? Many are surprised to realize, there’s actually a wide variety of animals that live in Antarctica.

This guide to the animals of Antarctica is designed to help inform you on what to expect on your next Antarctic vacation. Whether you are interested in wildlife watching, birdwatching or whale watching, the white continent has you covered.

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.


Penguins of Antarctica

Of all the animals in Antarctica, penguins are the superstars. These Antarctic animals are both abundant and easy to observe.

The Antarctic penguin population is estimated to number 75 million. The four “true” Antarctic penguin species (those living in continental Antarctica) are the Adelie, Gentoo, Chinstrap, and Emperor Penguins.

Four other species inhabit the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Sub-Antarctic islands: Rockhopper, Macaroni, Magellanic, and King Penguins.

Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)

Adelie penguins are the smallest of the Antarctic penguins, with an average height under 75 centimeters.

These Antarctic animals are found throughout the region, breeding chiefly within the Antarctic Circle.

Adelie penguins are one of the animals in Antarctica that are endemic to the Antarctic, making them one of the more sought-after species among wildlife watchers.

Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus)

The chinstrap penguin has an average height of 70 centimeters.

One of the more distinct animals in Antarctica, Chinstrap penguins are named for a characteristic thin black line of feathers under their chins.

Chinstraps are found throughout Antarctica and the surrounding regions. Those looking to observe these unique Antarctic animals can find colonies in South Georgia, the South Shetlands and the Antarctic Peninsula.

Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)

The Emperor penguin is another animal in Antarctica that’s endemic to the Antarctic region.

Holding the title of the largest Antarctic penguin, Emperor penguins reach an average height over 120 centimeters.

While Emperors have a circumpolar distribution, they are typically only found in close proximity to pack ice.

Generally, each Emperor couple produces one egg per year. Notably, the male Emperor penguin is the only warm-blooded Antarctica animal that remains in the Antarctic throughout the winter.

The Emperor penguin diet consists primarily of fish.

Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua)

Reaching an average height of 70 centimeters, Gentoo penguins are known to breed and nest in both small colonies and larger colonies of up to several thousand birds.

Gentoo colonies can be occasionally be found several kilometers inland, with most Gentoos remaining in their colonies year-round.

One of the more abundant animals in Antarctica, Gentoo penguins have circumpolar distribution.

King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) 

Standing up to one meter tall, this Antarctic animal is found throughout the Arctic region.

As one of the animals in Antarctica that’s also found in Argentine Patagonia and South Georgia, King penguins are also known as “Patagonian penguins” in some regions.

King penguins occasionally breed and nest in the same sites as Gentoo Penguins. As their breeding cycle takes longer than one year, a King penguin couple is capable of producing two chicks every three years.

Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)

Macaroni penguins reach an average height of 70 centimeters.

These Antarctic animals are similar to the Rockhopper in appearance and nesting habits. While eggs are laid in pairs, the Macaroni chick in the smaller egg rarely survives.

Macaroni penguins are another animal in Antarctica that is found throughout the entire region, with a large concentration found in the Falkland Islands.

These Antarctic animals are slightly larger than Rockhopper Penguins, with a heavier bill and an uninterrupted crest of yellow feathers across their brow.

Macaroni penguins may remind you of an eccentric uncle.

King penguins occasionally breed and nest in the same sites as Gentoo Penguins. As their breeding cycle takes longer than one year, a King penguin couple is capable of producing two chicks every three years.

Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)

While Magellanic penguins rank among the animals in Antarctica, they are primarily found in coastal South America (Brazil to Patagonia).

Antarctic Magellanic penguins live in colonies on the Falkland Islands, nesting in holes, preferably beneath spiked bushes.

The Magellanic penguin is another Antarctic animal known to commonly lay it’s eggs in pairs.

Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome) 

Also known as Rockies or Jumping Jacks, the Rockhopper penguin is also on the list of animals in Antarctica that’s found throughout the Arctic region.

Despite their circumpolar distribution, Rockhoppers are most abundant in the Falkland Islands. These Antarctic animals lay two white eggs, the first of which is smaller with its chick is rarely reared to maturity.

Rockhopper penguins can be distinguished by the characteristic yellow feathers on their temples.

Antarctica and the surrounding polar regions are home to nine species of whales.

The three largest whales in the Antarctic are not only the biggest animals in Antarctica, they are the three largest-bodied extant animals worldwide.

Baleen Whales


Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

The Humpback whale is the most common whale in the Antarctic.

These Antarctic animals are surprisingly agile, due in part to their large maneuverable flippers—the longest of any cetacean.

Breeching Humpbacks are a fairly common sight among the animals in Antarctica. These jumps are useful for removing crustaceans, aid in digestion, and are sometime part of courtship displays.

Notably, Humpbacks are one of only two species of whales in the entire world that are known to use a bubble-net feeding technique.

Humpback Whale Characteristics:

  • Length: 52 to 56 Feet (males are slightly smaller than females)
  • Weight: About 90,000 Pounds
  • Lifespan: Approximately 50 Years
  • Blow: V-Shaped
  • Diet: Krill and Schooling Fish

Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

Fin whales are not only the second largest animal in Antarctica, they’re the second largest living animals on the planet.

These large Antarctic baleen whales are sleek; featuring dark gray skin and a white underbelly.

One key identifier of these Antarctic giants is the asymmetrical pigmentation on their lower jaw. Fin whales also have a V-shaped chevron behind their head.

Fin Whales Characteristics:

  • Length: About 89 Feet
  • Weight: Around 260,000 Pounds
  • Lifespan: Approximately 80 Years
  • Blow: Tall and Columnar
  • Diet: Krill and Schooling Fish

Southern Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus intermedia) 

Southern Blue Whales simultaneously hold the title of the largest animals in Antarctica and the largest animals to ever live on Earth.

An adult blue whale eats four to six tons of krill every day for six months, making Antarctica the perfect habitat for these behemoths.

Blue whales feature mottled skin with a blue-gray hue. Underwater, they appear almost aquamarine.

Southern Blue Whale Characteristics:

  • 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)

Pronounced “sigh” whale, the Sei whale known for sleekness and speed; they can swim at up to 30 miles per hour.

Their range extends beyond Antarctica; these giants can be found worldwide.

The Sei whale features a black body with white belly.

Sei Whale Characteristics:

  • Length: About 64 Feet (males are slightly shorter)
  • Weight: About 100,000 Pounds
  • Lifespan: Approximately 50 Years
  • Blow: Tall and Columnar
  • Diet: Krill, Squid, Small Fish, and Copepods

Antarctic Minke Whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) 

Among the smallest baleen whales in Antarctica, Minke whales are grey with white counter shading.

These Antarctica animals feature a sleek shape, with a pointed head and a sharp longitudinal ridge.

Interestingly, the Killer Whale (Orca) has been known to feed on Minkes.

Minke Whale Characteristics:

  • Length: About 35 Feet
  • Weight: About 20,000 Pounds
  • Lifespan: Approximately 50 Years
  • Blow: Rarely Visible
  • Diet: Krill and Schooling Fish

Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis)

The Southern Right whale is the only large whale in the Southern Hemisphere that lacks a dorsal fin.

This animal of Antarctica features a black body with white ventral patches and an arched mouthline.

Southern Right whales have two blowholes, responsible for their distinctive V-shaped blow. Another key distinguishing feature is their large head, which can occupy up to one-quarter of their total body length.

Southern Right Whale Characteristics:

  • 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)

Iconic black body with white patches, prominent dorsal fin, robust body. Killer Whales are actually the largest delphinids. They are also the most widespread cetaceans.

They are known for their intelligence and adaptability; diets and hunting behaviors vary by territory. We’ve heard of killer whales tossing sea turtles into the air repeatedly, as though playing with a beachball. In Argentine Patagonia, they risk beaching themselves to “strand feed” on sea lion pups. Killer whales have even been observed eating swimming mammals, such as moose and deer.

Killer Whale Characteristics:

  • 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)

Long-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas)

The Long-finned Pilot whale features a black body with white patches.

This Antarctica animal has long, backswept flippers, a bulbous head, and smile-shaped mouth.

Long-finned Pilot Whale Characteristics:

  • 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

Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales, further distinguished by their disproportionately huge heads.

Sperm whales feature uniformly dark gray skin. Female Sperm whales hunt in stable, long-term pods. They are deep divers, hunting as deep as a mile below the surface.

Sperm whales often dive for as much as 40 minutes, and can dive for as long as two hours.

Sperm Whale Characteristics:

  • 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


The Antarctic is home to five species of dolphins, although other species may be observed in migration.

Commerson’s Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus commersonii) 

Commerson’s dolphins feature a small, robust body, with a black face and flippers.

These Antarctic animals have a white back and belly and black dorsal fin and tail.

Commerson’s Dolphin Characteristics:

  • Length: About 4’10”
  • Weight: Around 190 Pounds
  • Lifespan: Approximately 18 Years
  • Diet: Small Fish and Squid

Commerson’s dolphin dorsal fins are small and rounded at the tip. Their beaks are similarly small or unnoticeable.

Dusky Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) 

This Antarctic animal has a stubby beak, dark back, bi-colored dorsal fin, white throat and belly.

Capable of high, acrobatic leaps, the Dusky dolphin is definitely among the more interesting animals in Antarctica to watch.

Dusky Dolphin Characteristics:

  • Length: About 6 Feet
  • Weight: Around 180 Pounds
  • Lifespan: Approximately 35 Years
  • Diet: Small Fish, Shrimp, and Squid

Hourglass Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus cruciger) 

The Hourglass dolphin has a small body and a short beak. Proportionate to its body, this  Antarctic animal features a relatively large dorsal fin and flippers.

Named for its hourglass shape, the Hourglass dolphin has a white streak along each of its sides, running from its face to its tail.

Hourglass dolphins are predominately black, with a white belly.

Hourglass Dolphin Characteristics:

  • Length: About 6 Feet
  • Weight: Around 180 Pounds
  • Lifespan: Unknown
  • Diet: Small Fish and Squid

Peale’s Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus australis) 

The Peale’s dolphin has a robust body and short beak with a dark face.

These dolphins are distinguished by a white belly, with complex black and white shading down the sides, and additional black shading down the back.

Peale’s Dolphin Characteristics:

  • Length: About 7 Feet
  • Weight: Around 200 Pounds
  • Lifespan: Unknown
  • Diet: Small Fish, Crustaceans, and Squid

Southern Right Whale Dolphin (Lissodelphis peronli)

Not to be confused with the Southern Right whale, this Antarctic animal is slender and sleek, with a black back.

Contrasting its black back, the southern right whale dolphin features both a white face and belly.

Southern Right Whale Dolphin Characteristics:

  • Length: About 10 Feet
  • Weight: Around 260 Pounds
  • Lifespan: About 40 Years
  • Diet: Small Fish and Squid

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.

Antarctic Fur Seal Characteristics:

  • 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.

Crabeater Seal (Lobodon carcinophaga) 

Crabeater seals have a slender body with a small head.

Often described as smiling, and remind us of golden retrievers in that respect. Crabeaters are easy to identify. “Crabbies” have uniquely adapted teeth—the most adapted of any extant mammal—allowing them to filter feed like a whale.

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.

Crabeater Seal Statistics:

  • Length: Approximately 8’8”
  • Weight: Up to 510 Pounds
  • Lifespan: Approximately 20 Years; Possibly up to 30 years
  • Diet: Mostly Krill

Leopard Seal (Hydrurga leptonyx)

Unmistakable and formidable. When you first encounter a leopard seal, you’ll likely be shocked by its size and aspect.

The leopard seal has a long, slender body and silver to dark gray coat, with dappled sides and light underbelly.

This Antarctic animal is distinguished by its huge mouth with sharp teeth. Nostrils are positioned on the side of the Leopard seal’s long snout.

One of the more solitary animals in Antarctica by nature, leopard seals are opportunistic hunters and seem willing to eat just about any available prey.

Leopard Seal Characteristics:

  • Length: Males 11 Feet; Females 12 Feet
  • Weight: Up to 990 pounds for Males and 1,300 pounds for Females
  • Lifespan: Unknown
  • Diet: Other Seals, Penguins, Fish, and Squid

Ross Seal (Ommatophoca rossii)

The Ross is a smaller seal, with a dark back and light-colored belly.

This Antarctic animal features a short neck, thick chest, 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.

Ross Seal Characteristics:

  • Length: Up to 7’10”
  • Weight: Reaches 440 pounds
  • Lifespan: Unknown
  • Diet: Squid and Fish

Subantarctic Fur Seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) 

The Subantarctic Fur seal has a short, pointed snout.

These Antarctica animals feature either a light orange or cream colored coat.

True to its name, the subantarctic fur seal is found in abundance outside of the Arctic, in the South Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Subantarctic Fur Seal Characteristics:

  • 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

South American Fur Seal (Arctocephalus australis) 

The South American fur seal features a long, pointed snout and long, slender flippers.

Featuring a dark brown coat, South American fur seals are another example of animals in Antarctica that are also found in a handful of countries in South America.

South American fur seals have been spotted in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Peru, Chile, and the Falkland Islands.

South American Fur Seal Characteristics:

  • 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)

The southern elephant seal is massive and bulky, with large eyes. Males have a distinctive nose with an inflatable nose sack.

Southern elephant seals are loud and vocal—many of their sounds are comical. When walking near them on a beach, you’ll hear sounds that suggest they’ve eaten far too much chili.

Males can be very aggressive, capable of inchworming their way along the shore with surprising speed. With this in mind, it’s wise maintain a safe distance when observing them. These are wild animals, and can be dangerous; follow the instructions of your guides.

Elephant Seals are deep divers, hunting at depths of 600 to 2,000 feet below the surface.

Southern Elephant Seal Characteristics:

  • 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

Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii)

The Weddell seal features a large, robust body with a small head.

These Antarctica animals have a dark back, light belly, and dappled sides.

The natural habitat of the Weddell seal is farther south than any other mammal.

To access air, Weddell seals make and maintain holes in the sea ice with their teeth. Weddell seals are deep divers, hunting at depths of up to 750 meters.

Weddell Seal Characteristics:

  • Length: Approximately 11′
  • Weight: Up to 1,200 Pounds
  • Lifespan: Approximately 20 Years
  • Diet: Fish, Squid, Crabs, and Krill

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.

South American Sea Lion Characteristics:

  • 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. 

All Antarctic bird species but two are migratory—only the male Emperor Penguin and the Snow Petrel overwinter on the continent.

The penguins may be the charismatic icons of Antarctica, but what about the other admirable Austral species?

These are our favorites:

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, willing taking 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!

Another flew nearly 5,000 miles in 17 days. The wandering albatross is capable of flight speeds of over 50 miles per hour.

Snow Petrel (Pagodroma [nivea] confusa) 

Yes, snow petrels are lovely. Beautiful all-white plumage contrasted with black legs, bill, and eyes—total knockouts.

Snow Petrels are not only one of the toughest animals in Antarctica, they are among the toughest creatures on the planet. 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.

Snow Petrels are worthy of all respect and admiration.

Want to know more about the Animals in Antarctica and opportunities to observe them in their natural habitat? Give LANDED a call today. When you travel with LANDED, our team of travel experts and network of local contacts are at your service. We’ll handle the details, freeing you to savor the moments. Call us today at 801.582.2100. Dream big. We’ve got you.