Antarctica Animals – Wildlife Animals That You Can See During a Visit

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Antarctica always seems like a stricken and inhospitable land, a place where life struggles to exist and where the forces of nature are at their most extreme. For humans, that might be true, but for many animals in Antarctica, the southern continent can be a haven that they are perfectly adapted to survive and even to thrive in.

Despite the extreme conditions, there are a variety of different species of animals that live in Antarctica, although of course, compared to more hospitable locations around the world, numbers and diversity are much more limited.

Much of the Antarctic continent is too cold for anything, and most animals live either on the Antarctic Peninsula or in the Antarctic Islands to the north of the main landmass, where the weather is slightly more forgiving.

Antarctic expeditions can get you close to the animals, be they on land or in the sea, and the array of Antarctica wildlife includes different species of whale, from Minkes to Humpbacks, seals and penguins, and many unique species of bird.

To inspire your wildlife watching trip, here are the animals that live in Antarctica that we saw and what you can expect to see on a trip!

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Antarctica (Travel Guide)

Animals in Antarctica - What you Can expect to see

Ethical Wildlife Viewing In Antarctica

Table of Contents

Anyone who is traveling to Antarctica on a polar expedition is well-traveled but it never fails ethical wildlife viewing is forgotten about once you see your first penguin on land.

What’s nice is all of the expeditions operating down in Antarctica operate under ethical wildlife viewing standards. You will be briefed on this once you arrive onboard and you will be reminded of this daily. Even though you will be briefed on this we still feel it is important to highlight. 

We all have seen it, the selfie photo with a penguin on Instagram or Facebook from other travel influences. There’s nothing truly ethical about that. Yes, the penguins are a cruise about you of as you are of them but don’t be that traveler who has to get their self stick around them with that GoPro attached to get that epic shot. 

Tips for being ethical while viewing wildlife in Antarctica:

  • Never chase wildlife
  • Try to keep quiet and understand you are in their habitat. 
  • Let them have their space. You should be 6-10 feet away at all times, Yes this will be hard at times.
  • Don’t stand on penguin highways. Yes, its a thing and penguins come and go on them non-stop so don’t stand in their way.
  • Don’t walk off the marked/flagged path. 
  • Don’t leave boot – footmarks in the snow. Penguins can fall in them and die.
  • Don’t forget about your own safety, Yes you may want to get that award-winning wildlife photograph but keep in mind your safety and others. Don’t stop right on the beach in the way of other passengers that are trying to unload. 
  • Don’t spend to much time in one spot, this can make any wildlife animal nervous.  
  • Never touch or hold wildlife.

Practicing these steps will ensure today is not affected by your visit to Antarctica. 


Animals in Antarctica You Can See During a Visit

Animals in Antarctica - What you Can expect to see

Antarctic Penguins

One of Antarctica’s most popular animals is the penguins. There are 17 different species of penguins found in Antarctica. Only the Emperor Penguin and Adelie Penguin make the Antarctic continent their home.

Others like the poplar Chinstrap or Gentoo stay to the Antarctic Peninsula found on the northern tip where the weather conditions are less harsh.  There are around 12 million penguins in Antarctica.

They mostly eat krill and very small fish. Penguins can be found pretty much anywhere you will go on an expedition cruise. Penguins spend most of their time in the water where you will be able to see floating rafts of Penguins, but they usually come to land to mate and raise their chicks.

There are 7 different kinds of penguins you may see on your Antarctica cruise. 

The most common Penguins you will see on an expedition to Antarctica is Chinstrap Penguins and Gentoo Penguins. The Emperor Penguins are rarest to see in Antarctica but it does not mean you will not see them.

Penguins thrive in Antarctica because there are limited predators, If you introduced polar bears that are having issues in the Arctic, the penguins would die out. Climate change is affecting penguins the most in Antarctica. 

Penguins in Antarctica are very curious and do not think of humans as a threat or a meal. They are not shy around people at all, they will come right up to you to see what you are up to. Always treat them the way you would any other wild animal.

Below are the different kinds of Antarctic Penguins. 

Animals in Antarctica - Emperor Penguins

Chinstrap Penguins

The Chinstrap Penguin is the most iconic and abundant of animals in Antarctica. These small penguins are named for the fact that they have a distinctive black band around their neck, which looks remarkably like a chinstrap.

You can find Chinstrap Penguins across the Antarctic Peninsula and in the South Shetland Islands. They breed on the peninsula in November and will be found further north in later months when the weather gets worse.

Chinstrap Penguins live in large colonies, and on Deception Island, for instance, you can find the penguins numbering in the hundreds of thousands in the summer months.

Chinstrap Penguin Facts: 

  • Height: 68cm – 27 inches
  • Weight: 4.5kg – 10lb
  • Breeding Season: December – March
  • Distribution: Sub Antarctic and Antarctic islands, Antarctic Peninsula.
  • Estimated population: 5 million breeding pairs

King Penguins

King Penguins are the second largest species of penguin in the world, and you can see them across the Antarctic. These penguins are some of the liveliest out there, and they are a joy to watch hopping around, jumping into the ocean and nesting.

They have brightly colored orange or yellow streaks across their coats and at the start of summer, you can find them in huge numbers on the beaches as they enter the breeding season.

The best place to see King Penguins is actually South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands, but many Antarctic Expeditions will call in here before heading further south.

King Penguins Facts:

  • Height: 95cm – 3.1 ft
  • Weight: 15kg – 33lb 
  • Breeding Season: Starts in November or January, complex breeding system, early or late breeders – raise 2 chicks every 3 years.
  • Distribution: Sub-Antarctic islands 46° to 55° South. The biggest colony is on South Georgia.
  • Estimated population: 2 to 3.2 million breeding pairs

Animals in Antarctica - What you Can expect to see

Gentoo Penguins

A close cousin of the Chinstrap Penguin is the Gentoo Penguin, which can claim to be the third-largest penguin species in the world. Gentoo Penguins are found in large colonies across the Antarctic Peninsula and are one of the most numerous animals that live in Antarctica.

Gentoo Penguins are easily spotted from afar, even in heavy snow and ice, as they have an incredibly colorful and distinctive orange bill that stands out from a distance.

Gentoo Penguin Facts:

  • Height: 71cm – 28 inches
  • Weight: 5.5 kg – 12lb
  • Breeding Season: December – March
  • Distribution: Falkland Islands and south to the sub-Antarctic islands, the most northerly of the 4 Antarctic species.
  • Estimated population: 320,000 breeding pairs

Emperor Penguins

Emperor Penguins are the largest species of penguins, and they can grow up to four feet in height. These large penguins are the rarest to see in Antarctica, but also the most fascinating, as they live in the most extreme conditions.

Emperor Penguins breed on the Antarctic Peninsula during winter, making them unique amongst penguins and animals in Antarctica. The best place to see them is on Snow Hill Island, in the Weddell Sea, where a large breeding colony is found.

Emperor Penguins Facts:

  • Height: 1.15m – 3.8ft
  • Weight: 30kg – 66lb
  • Breeding Season: April – December
  • Distribution: Continental Antarctica on the sea-ice, the most southerly of all species of penguins.
  • Estimated population: 238, 000 breeding pairs, 595, 000 individuals

Rockhopper Penguins

One of the smallest species of penguins that you can find amongst the animals that live in Antarctica is the Rockhopper Penguin. This petite penguin weighs just a few kilos and stands no more than one and a half feet tall.

Rockhoppers are lively though, despite their small status, and they are best known for their unique head plumage, which appears spiky and looks almost as if it’s been hand styled.

Rockhopper Penguins can be found in the northern islands in Antarctica, not on the colder peninsula, as they aren’t quite as well adapted to extreme cold as other species of penguins are.

Rockhopper Penguins Facts:

  • Height: 55cm – 21.6 inches
  • Weight: 2.5kg – 5.5lb 
  • Breeding Season: December – March
  • Distribution: Falkland islands and sub-Antarctic islands north of the Antarctic convergence.
  • Estimated population:1.8 million breeding pairs. Many populations are in decline by 40% and up to 94% for certain colonies.

NOTE: This is a vulnerable animal of Antarctica and it is at a high risk of extinction in the wild.

 

Antarctica Penguins

Macaroni Penguins

Macaroni Penguins are named for their bright orange plume feathers that look like large eyebrows, these shallow-nesting hoppers are the largest of the crested penguins. 

Like other penguins in Antarctica, Macaroni Penguins from vast colonies and foraging groups. There are over 18,000,000 individuals alive today. Macaroni Penguins can be found around Bouvet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands, and South Georgia. 

Macaroni Penguins Facts:

  • Height: 68cm – 27 inches
  • Weight: 4.5kg – 10lb 
  • Breeding Season: December – March
  • Distribution:  Sub-Antarctic islands especially Heard Island and South Georgia.
  • Estimated population: 9 million breeding pairs. Many populations are in decline.

NOTE: This is a vulnerable animal of Antarctica and it is at a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Adelie Penguins

Adeline Penguins are the littlest and also the most abundant species of penguins in Antarctica.  These little guys may be clumsy on land but Adelie Penguins are great swimmers. 

Adeline Penguins are known to have attitudes. They have been known to take on potential predators, seals or large seabirds or even attack visiting expedition passengers.

Adeline Penguins can be found on the Antarctic continent and also on it’s neighboring islands including the South Orkney and the South Sandwich Islands. 

Adelie Penguin Facts:

  • Height: 70cm – 27.5inches
  • Weight: 5kg – 11lb 
  • Breeding Season: November – February
  • Distribution: Antarctic continent and sub-Antarctic islands. The second most southerly breeding penguin species
  • Estimated population: 2.5 million breeding pairs

Animals in Antarctica - What you can expect to see on an Expedition

Best Expedition Cruises for Viewing Penguins

  • South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula: Penguin Safari – 16 days – This cruise to Antarctica is based 100% around the Penguins. If you are a Penguin lover or someone who loves photography this is the Antarctica expedition for you. It starts in Ushuaia the southern tip of Argentina and goes to the best penguin spots in the Sough Georgia Islands then it heads to the best penguin spots in the Sough Shetland Islands looping around the Antarctic Peninsula. Since this cruise to Antarctica is about Penguins it will stop at places that the normal Antarctica cruises do not stop at for Penguins. This Antarctica cruise will also have researchers on board with you to explore these special locations. On this trip, you’re likely to see all of the species of Penguins. 
  • Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica: Explorers and Kings – 20 days – This type of expedition departs from Ushuaia in southern Argentina and visits South Georgia and the Falklands before continuing onto Antarctica. This expedition is good for wildlife viewing since it is a little longer than the basic cruise, that allows you to explore more areas to find more wildlife. On this trip, you’re likely to see Chinstrap Penguins, Gentoo Penguins, Emperor Penguins, Rockhopper Penguins, Macaroni Penguins, and Adelie Penguins. 
  • Epic Antarctica: Crossing the Circle via Falklands and South Georgia – 23 days – This expedition departs from Ushuaia in southern Argentina and visits South Georgia and the Falklands before continuing onto Antarctica down to the Arctic Circle. This is the cruise you want to be on if you are into wildlife or photography. Since it’s longer they spend more time in places. On this trip, you’re likely to see Chinstrap Penguins, Gentoo Penguins, Emperor Penguins, Rockhopper Penguins, Macaroni Penguins, and Adelie Penguins. 

Don’t leave home without: Antarctic Wildlife: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species


Animals in Antarctica - What you Can expect to see

Whales (Rorquals)

There is nothing like seeing a whale jumping out of the water next to a towering iceberg along the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s pure beauty, unlike anywhere else in the world. Whale-watching is one of the great draws on an Antarctica cruise along with bird watching and standing in awe of amazing landscapes. 

There are 8 different whales you might see during your Antarctica cruise and they can be found along the Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctic Circle, Ross Sea, Falkland Islands, and South Georgia.  

The most common species of whales that can be found in Antarctic waters are Right whales, Blue whales, Sei whales, Humpback whales, Minke whales, Fin whales, Sperm whales, and Killer whales. 

Whales are the largest animals found on the planet and they are near the edge of extinction due to hunting. Below are the different kinds of Antarctic Whales. 

NOTE: The Slender-billed Pron is a great red flag for whales! They tend to swim above them carry picking the fish they push up to the surface. Look for them and you will find whiles. 

Animals in Antarctica - Blue Whale

Humpback Whale

As well as penguins, Antarctica wildlife also includes many marine animals, and the southern waters are the perfect place to see many different species of whale, including Humpbacks.

This species of whale can be found in large numbers across Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters during summer, and if you’re on an expedition you’re more than likely to spot them in the ocean at some point during your trip.

Humpbacks are migratory, so they only travel to the Antarctic in summer, when the water is warmer and the ocean is filled with krill. In winter, they move north to warmer climates.

Humpbacks are wonderful to see, and you’ll realize how enormous they really are when they burst through the water to surface and breach.

Humpback Whale Facts:

  • Average adult body length 12.9 M (Males) 13.7 M (Females) 
  • Average Weight: 25- 48 tonnes. 
  • Lifespan: Approximately 50 Years
  • Blow: V-Shaped
  • Diet: Krill and Schooling Fish

Antarctic Minke Whale

Another frequent sight in the waters of the Antarctic, are Minke Whales, which like the Humpback are also migratory. Minke can grow to 16-19 feet (5-6 meters) in length, so in comparison to the Humpback, they are rather small, but they are just as wonderful to see in the wild.

Minke Whales love ice, and you’ll often see them surfacing amongst heavy ice sheets in Antarctica. You’re likely to spot them in summer of course, and in winter they tend to move north to warmer waters, although some have been known to spend the whole year in the Antarctic.

Minke Whale Facts:

  • Average adult body length 9m. 
  • Average Weight: 7 tonnes. 

Sei Whale

Sei Whales are Antarctica’s most elusive whale species and are considered rare in Antarctica. They are normally found traveling solo, or in very small pods. They will sometimes congregate by the thousands in an area where a food source is plentiful. 

They prefer warmer waters than what is normally found in Antarctica. Sei Whales have been found in Antarctica around Bouvet Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and St. Helena. 

Sei Whale Facts:

  • Average adult body length 16m.
  • Average Weight: 13 tonnes. 

NOTE: This is an endangered animal of Antarctica and it is at a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

Fin Whale

Fin whales are the second-largest whale species in the world after the blue whale. They are found in all oceans around the world and their highest population of density is in Antarctica away from sea ice, in temperate and cool waters. Where they can feed on Krill. 

Fin whales are normally seen solo or in pairs in Antarctica but can be found in large pods of 50 to 300 during migrations. 

There are nearly 750,00 Fin whales were killed in the 20th century in the southern hemisphere, classifying them as endangered.  Fin whales can be found in Antarctica around Bouvet Island, Lofoten, Antarctic Peninsula, Ross Sea, Weddell Sea, Falkland Island South Georgia and St. Helena. 

Fin Whale Facts:

  • Average adult body length 20m.
  • Average Weight: 50 tonnes. 
  • Lifespan: Approximately 80 Years
  • Blow: Tall and Columnar
  • Diet: Krill and Schooling Fish

NOTE: This is an endangered animal of Antarctica and it is at a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

Southern Right Whale

Southern Right Whales are some of the most playful whales that can be found around the waters of Antarctica. These dorsal-less whales are found occasionally holding their back flippers in the air letting the wind push them through the water. 

On an expedition trip to Antarctica like we did with Quark Expeditions you will be given a chance to kayak with Southern Right Whales if the conditions are right. These large creatures are also known to be around Dolphins and Humpback Whales. 

Southern Right whales can be found around the Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and Trustan da Cunha. 

Southern Right Whale Facts:

  • Average adult body length 15- 20m.
  • Average Weight: 47-96 tonnes.
  • Lifespan: Approximately 70 Years
  • Blow: V-Shaped
  • Diet: Copepods and Occasionally Krill

Blue Whale

The Blue Whale is the largest animal ever known to have existed on the planet Earth and is one of the most awesome to see while on an expedition to Antarctica. 

Don’t get your hopes up to view them in the wild. Although it is not very common to sight them on anything other than a research vessel, they are still seen every now and then on an expedition cruise as Antarctica is one of their favorite hunting grounds. 

The Blue Whales are slowly recovering following the global hailing brand but they still face a number of serious threats that include ship strikes and the impact of climate change. 

The most common location in Antarctica to view Blue Whales are in the Ross Sea and in the South Georgia area. 

Blue Whale Facts: 

  • Average adult body length 26.2m.
  • Average Weight: 100-120 tonnes.
  • Lifespan: Approximately 70 Years
  • Blow: Very Tall and Columnar
  • Diet: Krill and Pelagic Crabs

NOTE: Blue whale is an endangered animal of Antarctica and it is at a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

Sperm Whale

Sperm Whales have fascinated explorers for centuries, they have also been the inspiration for the white whale of Moby Dick. They are the largest of the toothed whales and are found throughout the whole world. 

These whales are normally found feeding at the surface of the ocean.  Unlike other whales, Sperm whales can be found in large groups. Only males are found in Antarctic waters. 

Sperm whales were a prime target of commercial whaling from 1800 to 1987 and due to that are listed as endangered.

They can be found in deep sub-Antarctic ocean waters feeding off squids, sharks, skates, and fish. 

Sperm Whale Facts:

  • Average adult body length 16m.
  • Average Weight: 35 tonnes.
  • Lifespan: Approximately 65 Years
  • Blow: Bushy; Angled Forward and Left
  • Diet: Large and Medium-Sized Squid, Octopuses, and Bony Fis

NOTE: This is a vulnerable animal of Antarctica and it is at a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Orca – Killer Whale

Orcas, otherwise known as Killer Whales, are some of the most spectacular creatures you can find amongst the Antarctica wildlife. Orcas are some of the most intelligent animals in the world, and when you see them up close, that keen sense of intelligence comes across clearly, particularly if they are hunting.

Orcas live and hunt in family pods, and where you see one Orca, you’ll soon see more. If they see a boat, they are likely to swim alongside and perhaps even become playful, if there’s no food in the area!

Orcas are apex predators and they are at the top of the food chain in the oceans. They will mercilessly hunt anything that comes into their path, and in their pods, they are capable of rounding up seals and even larger whales to feed off.

You’ll find Orcas in the Antarctic throughout the year, and they are most commonly found amongst the pack ice, where they hunt for seals and penguins in the dense ice.

Killer Whale Facts:

  • Average adult body length 9-10 M (Males) 5-6 M (Females) 
  • Average Weight: 8.3-11.1 tonnes.
  • Lifespan: Approximately 55 Years for Males and 85 years for Females
  • Diet: Adaptable (Killer Whales eat everything from fish and squid, sea turtles, sharks, and large whales)

Best Expedition Cruises for Viewing Whales

  • Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent – 11 to 12 days – On this expedition to Antarctica you depart from Ushuaia in southern Argentina and explore the highlights of the Antarctic Peninsula. Learn about the environment and wildlife from onboard lecturers and specialists. Experience abundant wildlife: penguins, seals, whales and more! On this trip, the whales you’re likely to see are Humpback whales, Sperm whales, and Killer whales.
  • Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica: Explorers and Kings – 20 days – On this expedition to Antarctica you depart from Ushuaia in southern Argentina and visits South Georgia and the Falklands before continuing onto Antarctica. This expedition is great for wildlife viewing and photography since it is a little longer than the basic cruise, that allows you to explore more areas to find more wildlife. On this trip, the whales you’re likely to see are Right whales, Blue whales, Sei whales, Humpback whales, Minke whales, Fin whales, Sperm whales, and Killer whales.
  • Epic Antarctica: Crossing the Circle via Falklands and South Georgia – 23 days – On this expedition to Antarctica you depart from Ushuaia in southern Argentina and visits South Georgia and the Falklands before continuing onto Antarctica down to the Arctic Circle in search for not just whales but all types of animals in Antarctica. This is the cruise you want to be on if you are into wildlife or photography. Since it’s longer they spend more time in places. On this trip, the whales you’re likely to see are Right whales, Blue whales, Sei whales, Humpback whales, Minke whales, Fin whales, Sperm whales, and Killer whales.

Animals in Antarctica - What you can expect to see on an Expedition

Dolphins

Among all of the ever-popular animals in Antarctica, dolphins are always looking to put on a show in Antarctica. They can be found playing in the ships wake or swimming around the bow. No matter where you see them they are among some of the most active animals you can view in Antarctica. 

Antarctica is home to five species of dolphins and all can be seen on an expedition trip to Antarctica. 

Peale’s Dolphin

The Peale’s Dolphins are normally are seen bow-riding or wake- surfing around boats and ships. They are noticeable by their “Sea Caw” a black-and-white coloration that appears to be a cross from above. In addition to that, they have a large dorsal fin.

They are normally found swimming in and around the coastline and don’t appear to venture out very far or migrate to explore new habitats. 

Peale’s Dolphins are normally found in pods ranging from 5 to 50.  They are found mostly around the Falkland Islands and the Southern tip of South America. Your best chance to see those dolphins are when you are leaving the waters of Tierra del Fuego to Antarctica or if you are coming back from Antarctica. 

Peale’s Dolphin Facts:

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

Dusky Dolphin

The Dusky Dolphin is the smallest species of dolphin that can be found in the waters around Antarctica. But don’t let their small size fool you, they are action-packed dolphins. They are well known for their leaping and tumbling out of the water.

Dusky Dolphins are noticeable by their looks like they are wearing eye masks as they have distinctive dark lips, snout time and a patch around each eye that stands out on their way lighter face. 

It is common that several dusky dolphins will leap or tumble out of the water almost simultaneously like they are ballerinas performing a complicated dance. 

Dusky Dolphins are also known as Fitzroy’s dolphins in Argentina. In the past few years, there have been several sightings of dolphins who are hybrids or crosses between a dusky dolphin and a Southern Right Whale Dolphin. 

Dusky Dolphin Facts:

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

Hourglass Dolphin

Seeing Hourglass Dolphins are extremely rare on an expedition to Antarctica. They are not threatened or endangered, they can be found in remote parts of the cold Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters. 

They can be found near the South Shetland Islands, and around Tierra del Fuego. The largest concentration of Hourglass Dolphins have been recorded in the Drake Passage. 

Hourglass Dolphins are sociable with not just their own kind, they have been known to be seen with Fin Whales, Orcas, Pilot Whales, and Southern right whale dolphins. They typically congregate into pods ranging from one to 60. 

Commerson’s Dolphin 

Even in today’s world, the wildlife around Antarctica is mysterious and one of the most mysterious dolphins is the Commerson’s Dolphin. 

The Commerson’s Dolphins are some of the rarest marine mammals that can be sighted on an expedition to Antarctica. This is one of the many species that has managed to elude scientists and researchers for over 300 years.

Not much is know about the Commerson’s Dolphins, They can be playful breaching along the sides of ships. Commerson’s dolphins are one of the smallest species of cetaceans. 

They can be sighted along the Antarctic Peninsula, Strait of Magellan and the Falkland Islands. 

Commerson’s Dolphins Facts:

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

Southern Right Whale Dolphin

The southern right whale dolphin is many times confused with the Southern Right Whale, but this Antarctic animal is much more slender and sleek, with a black back then its whale relative. 

Just like most of its relatives the Southern Right Whale Dolphins are always looking to put on a show. They are agile and social spices that are known to jump out of the water twisting and winding like they are performing a fine dance. 

This Antarctic animal can be seen in pods ranging from 100 dolphins to 1,000. The Southern Right Whale Dolphin ten to prefer deep offshore waters where they can dive up to 200 meters or more in sea locations that are between 8-20 degrees celsius. 

Southern Right Whale Dolphin Facts:

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

Porpoises

Porpoises are neither whale nor dolphin, but somewhere in between the two, and these unique marine mammals are best suited to the cold waters of Antarctica.

Porpoises can grow up to a few meters in length, and you’ll notice their smooth, streamlined heads breaking the surface of the water. They can be cheery and playful and are a delight to watch swimming around boats and through the ice.

Animals in Antarctica - What you can expect to see on an Expedition

Best Expedition Cruise for Viewing Dolphins

  • Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent – 11 to 12 days – Antarctica has been inspiring explorers and travelers for centuries. This expedition offers you the chance to discover why with an unforgettable adventure through the spectacular wilderness of the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula. On this trip, the dolphins you’re likely to see are Peale’s Dolphins, Dusky Dolphins, Commerson’s Dolphins, and Southern Right Whale Dolphins. 
  • Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica: Explorers and Kings – 20 days –  This Antarctic cruise is truly an epic adventure through the remote Falkland Islands, the wildlife paradise of South Georgia and the amazing landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula. Explore the Antarctic Peninsula, the northernmost tip of the world’s 7th continent, by ship, Zodiac and foot while searching for wildlife. On this trip, the dolphins you’re likely to see are Peale’s Dolphins, Dusky Dolphins, Commerson’s Dolphins, and Southern Right Whale Dolphins. 
  • Epic Antarctica: Crossing the Circle via Falklands and South Georgia – 23 days – It’s time for you to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to Antarctica. Whether you’re visiting Antarctic research locations, witnessing a sudden Peale’s dolphins breach from your Zodiac, sharing a magical moment with Chinstrap penguins, or celebrating crossing the Antarctic Circle, this adventure will be a wild one. On this trip, the dolphins you’re likely to see are Peale’s Dolphins, Dusky Dolphins, Commerson’s Dolphins, and Southern Right Whale Dolphins. 

Animals in Antarctica - What you can expect to see on an Expedition

Antarctic Seals (Phocidae)

Seals are among some of the easiest animals that can be sighted in Antarctica. They stick out like a sore thumb across the white and blue landscape. Because of that, they were among some of the easiest animals to hunt in Antarctica. 

Nowadays seals are protected and they thrive in Antarctica because of little to no predators. Their real only threat are killer whales and when it comes to zodiac cruises on an expedition cruise to Antarctica seals are remarkably relaxed and at times are more curious than anything else.

One of the best things about a cruise in Antarctica is being able to view seals up close and personal. 

There are six kinds of seals that live in Antarctica. Five of them are true seal species. True seals are different from fur seals mostly because of the different way they swim. 

Four seals have much stronger for flippers, that is why they can easily be found on icebergs or on land in Antarctica. Fir seals are located in sub-Antarctica but they are not found on Antarctica itself. 

Animals in Antarctica - What you Can expect to see

Crabeater Seals

Seals are another of the most abundant animals that live in Antarctica, and there are several different species across the continent. Crabeater Seals are found in huge numbers along coastal Antarctica.

They are gentle and social creatures that specialize in feeding off krill in the water. Despite being large mammals, the Crabeater is often preyed on by other, more vicious species of seal.

Crabeater Seal Facts:

  • Average Weight: 200 – 300 kg / 440 – 660lbs
  • Average Length: 2.6m – 8.5 ft
  • Breeding Season: Pups are born from September to December.
  • Estimated world population: – 11-12 million.

Weddell Seals

Weddell Seals are perfectly adapted for the cold of the Antarctic, and this unique species can be found surviving further south on the continent, than any other mammal in the world.

They can be found all over the Antarctic, in large numbers, and are the friendliest of seals that you can encounter, allowing humans to get incredibly close!

Weddell Seals Facts:

  • Average Weight: 400 – 450 kg / 880 – 990lbs
  • Average Length: 2,9m – 9.5 ft males / females up to 3.3m – 11ft
  • Breeding Season: Pups are born from September to November
  • Estimated world population: – 500,000 to 1 million.

Leopard Seals

The Leopard Seal is the most predatory of seals that you can find in the Antarctic, and indeed, the species only has one natural predator, which is the Orca. Leopard Seals can be found wherever there is prey, and you’ll often spot them striking from the ocean along the coast of islands or ice packs.

Leopard Seals feed on much of the other Antarctica wildlife, including birds, penguins and even other seals unwary enough to be caught by them.

Leopard Seals Facts:

  • Weight: Males up to 300 kg / females 260 – 500 kg.
  • Length: Males typically 2.8 – 3.3 m / females 2.9 – 3.6 m, up to 3.8m.
  • Breeding Season: Pups are born on the ice usually from November to December.
  • Estimated world population: – 300,000 this estimate is from 1990.

Elephant Seals

Elephant Seals are some of the largest seals in the world, and they are easily identified, not just from their size, but from their unusual snouts which resemble an elephant’s trunk.

This huge snout, allows the male seal to make incredibly loud roaring noises, and you are more likely to hear an Elephant Seal before you actually see it.

Elephant Seals Facts:

  • Weight: Males range 1,500 – 3,000 kg, up to 3,700 kg (8,150 lb,) / females average 350 – 600 kg.up to 800 kg (1,800 lb.).
  • Length: Males typically 4.5m – 15 ft, up to 5.8m / females up to 2.8m – 9 ft.
  • Breeding Season: Pups are born from September to October.
  • Estimated world population: – 650,000 in the mid-1990s no more recent worldwide estimate is available.

Ross Seal 

The Ross Seal is one of the lesser-known seals that can be found in Antarctica. To be honest with you, you will be way lucky if you sight one. They are once of the least common and smallest of all the Antarctica seals. 

Ross Seals can be found living in some of the densest pack ice that can be found in Antarctica. They are noticeable by their silvery-white tummies underneath a brown upper body. They tend to have small heads with large eyes. 

One of the best places to view Ross Seals is along the Ross Sea ice shelf located long Antarctica. 

Ross Seal Facts:

  • Weight: Ross seals weight around 200 kg.
  • Length: Rose seals are typically 2.5 meters in length. 
  • Breeding Season: Pups are born in November on the ice.
  • Estimated world population: – 130,000 is a rough estimate. 

Antarctic Fur Seal 

The Antarctic Fur Seal is the smallest seals that can be found in and around Antarctica. At times people think they have seen a dog when really it was a fur seal. They are actually closely related relative to dogs. 

Four seals have long whiskers, sharp teeth, and a small thick fur coat.

Fur Seals are among some of the easiest animals to sight in Antarctica due to being a dark color, but if you are lucky it is possible to sight the occasional blonde Fur Seal. The best place to view Fur Seals are in South Georgia where over 95% of the world’s Fur seals live. 

Antarctic Fur Seal Facts:

  • Weight: Males 150 kg and females are 35 kg.
  • Length: Males are around 1.8 meters in length where females are 1.3 meters in length. 
  • Breeding Season: Pups are born from November to December.
  • Estimated world population: – It is estimated there are 5-7 million Fur Seals worldwide. 

Animals in Antarctica - What you can expect to see on an Expedition

Best Expedition Cruises for Viewing Seals


Antarctic Birds

Antarctica is also home to a wide variety of sea birds, which are specially adapted to live in the cold, extreme climate of the continent. In Spring, from October onward, many of the South Shetland Islands and much of the coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula, become busy breeding grounds for birds.

You can find many species, from large Albatross to Skuas and the unique Blue-Eyed Shag. Many birds will be seen around the penguin colonies, as the larger predators often prey on the young or weak penguins. Below are what sea birds you will see on your expedition cruise to Antartica. 

The best time to see chicks and fledglings is from mid-November to December. 

Wandering Albatross

The Wandering Albatross is one of the most iconic birds of Antarctica. These large birds can be a spectacular sight scoring along the back of your ship while you are sailing to Antarctica. 

The Wandering Albatross is the largest of all of the Albatrosses. They are noticeable by their white head, neck, and body, with a wedge-shaped tail, and a large pink beak. Juveniles have dark plumage that gradually whitens with age. 

Wandering Albatross is normally sighted while crossing the Drake Passage but you can sight them on an expedition to Bouvet Island, along the Antarctic Peninsula and in South Georgia. 

Wandering Albatross Facts:

  • Average Weight: 5.9 to 12.7 kg, commonly 6.4  – 11.9 kg, males are typically around 20% heavier than females.
  • Average Length: 107 – 135 cm
  • Wingspan: average 3.1 m (10 ft 2 inches) and up to 3.5 m
  • Breeding Season: One chick is produced every two years by pair of adults that mate for life.

NOTE: This is a vulnerable animal of Antarctica and it is at a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Southern Royal Albatross

The Southern Royal Albatross is yet one of the many great Albatross spices that can be found in Antarctica. These birds are amazing how they can wander such far distances ranging up to 1000 km in a single day. 

The Southern Royal Albatross is the largest of all of the Albatrosses except the Wandering albatross. It is noticeable by its large white body and large black wings with a whitetail. Its bill is light pink with a creamy tip that has a black cutting edge on the upper mandible.

Juveniles have much blacker wings than adults and white bodies with dark black flecking on the back, flacks, crown, and tail. 

Southern Royal Albatross Facts:

  • Average Weight: 8 – 10 kg
  • Average Length: 115 – 120 cm
  • Wingspan: average 3.1 m (10 ft 2 inches) and up to 3.5 m
  • Breeding Season: One chick is produced every two years by pair of adults that mate for life.

NOTE: This is a vulnerable animal of Antarctica and it is at a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Northern Royal Albatross

The Northern Royal Albatross are remarkable travelers, who are seen covering millions of miles over the Southern Ocean during a lifespan that lasts more than 50 years.

Closely related to the Southern Royal Albatross are the Northern Royal Albatross. The Northern Royal Albatross can be identified by its large white body that includes the mantel, unlike the smaller albatrosses that have dark backs. Their legs are flesh color and their feet are webbed. The bill is dark pink and its head is white.

The Northern Royal Albatross can be found along the Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkney Islands, Ross Sea, Weddell Sea, and South Georgia. 

Northern Royal Albatross Facts:

  • Average Weight: 6,200 – 8,00 kg 
  • Average Length: 115 cm
  • Wingspan: 270 – 305 cm
  • Northern Royal Albatross mainly eats squid, fish, crustaceans, carrion, cephalopods, and lampreys. 

Gray-headed Albatross

The Gray-headed Albatross is the poster child for an angry-looking bird.  The Gray-headed Albatross is listed as an Endangered species.

The Gray-headed Albatross can be Identified white body and chest. It’s a light gray head, back and tail feathers. Dark grey wings. Dark bill with a golden outline along the top and bottom, hooking into a pinkish tip. With a shite crest under the eyes.

One Gray-headed Albatross recorded as circumnavigating Antarctica in just 46 days. The Gray-headed Albatross can be found along the Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkney Islands, Ross Sea, Weddell Sea, and South Georgia. 

Grey-headed Albatross Facts: 

  • Average Weight: 3000 – 3750 g 
  • Average Length: 79 – 81 cm
  • Wingspan: 180 – 220 cm
  • Black-browed Albatross mainly eats squid, fish, crustaceans, carrion, cephalopods, and lampreys. 

NOTE: This is a vulnerable animal of Antarctica and it is at a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Animals in Antarctica - black browed albatross
Black Browed Albatross on the Drake Passage

Black-browed Albatross

The Black-browed Albatross is some of the most elegant flying birds that can be sighted on a cruise to Antarctica. They can glide through the air so efficiently their heart rate actually barely rises above resting.

The Black-browed Albatross is noticeable by its white body that turns to gray to black wings. They have a large yellow-orange bill with a black eyebrow above their eyes. 

The Black-browed Albatross can be found along the Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkney Islands, Ross Sea, Weddel Sea, and South Georgia. 

Black-browed Albatross Facts: 

  • Average Weight: 2.9 – 4.7 kg 
  • Average Length: 31 – 37 cm
  • Wingspan: 200 – 240 cm
  • Black-browed Albatross mainly eats carrion, crustaceans, fish, offal, and squids. 

NOTE: This is an endangered animal of Antarctica and it is at a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

It is amazing watching the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross fly effortlessly over the ocean.

The Light-mantled Sooty Albatross is one of the only albatross species that have extremely pointed wings, wedge-shaped tails, and dark brown coloration.  They have a grayish mantle with a white crescent around the eyes. 

The Light-mantled Sooty Albatross can be found throughout the Antarctic Peninsula. 

Light-mantled Sooty Albatross Facts: 

  • Average Weight: 2.5 – 3.7 kg 
  • Average Length: 79 – 89 cm
  • Wingspan: 183 – 218 cm
  • Light-mantled Sooty Albatross mainly eats cephalopods and euphausiids, fish and carrion. 

Southern Giant Petrel

The Southern Giant Petrel is the largest petrel species and can even reach the size of the smallest albatross. They are very aggressive birds and some may even say opportunistic eating penguins, albatrosses, seals, and shale carrion. 

The Southern Giant Petrels have grey-brown bodies with whiteheads. Their neck and breast are speckled with brown. 

Southern Giant Petrels breed on the Antarctic continent and are found along the Antarctic Peninsula, Heard Island, South Georgia, Marion and Iles Crozet.

Southern Giant Petrel Facts:

  • Average Weight: 3500 – 5600 g 
  • Average Length: 80 – 95 cm
  • Wingspan: 150 – 210 cm
  • Southern Giant Petrels mainly eat fish, squid, shrimp, jellyfish, krill and other cephalopods. 

Northern (Hall’s) Giant Petrel

The Northern Giant Petrel is a large sea bird named after the Greek word “long swimmers.” They are the only members of the Procellariidae family that have legs strong enough to walk about on land. 

The Northern Giant Petrel can be identified by its gray-brown body with a lighter colored forehead. Their bill is pinkish and they have grey eyes. 

The Northern Giant Petrel can be found along the Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkney Islands, Ross Sea, Weddell Sea, and South Georgia. 

Northern (Hall’s) Giant Petrel Facts:

  • Average Weight: 3500 – 5600 g 
  • Average Length: 80 – 95 cm
  • Wingspan: 150 – 210 cm
  • Northern Giant Petrels mainly eats fish, squid, shrimp, jellyfish, krill and other cephalopods. 

Southern Fulmar

The Southern Fulmar is a seabird of the Southern Hemisphere. They live in large colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula and the Antarctic continent. 

Southern fulmars are sometimes mistaken for gulls since their appearance is white or grey, but they have tubed beaks and fly on stiff wings.

Southern Fulmars can be found along the Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkney Islands, Ross Sea, Weddell Sea, and South Georgia. 

Southern Fulmar Facts: 

  • Average Weight: 450 – 1,000 g 
  • Average Length: 45 cm
  • Wingspan: 45 – 50 cm
  • Southern fulmars mainly eat fish, squid, shrimp, carrion, refuse, plankton and jellyfish. 

Antarctic Petrel

The Antarctic Petrel seems to have the ability to walk on water or at lest seam to while they are flying.

You can identify Antarctic Petrels by their dark brown head, back, forward-facing wings, and a tail tip. They have white on the back of their wings, undersides, and rump before their tail feather begins. Their bill is hooked shaped and they have yellow feet.

The Antarctic Petrel is an Antarctic animal that can be found in large flocks resting on icebergs in Antarctica. The Cape Petrel can be found along the Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkney Islands, Ross Sea, Weddell Sea, and South Georgia. 

Antarctic Petrel Facts:

  • Average Weight: 675 g 
  • Average Length: 42 cm
  • Wingspan: 185 – 205 cm
  • Petrels mainly eat crustaceans fish, squid and shrimp.

NOTE: This is an endangered animal of Antarctica and it is at a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

Cape (Pintado) Petrel

The Cape Petrel has a funny habit Soaring around in large groups picking at the water while they grab beaks full of fish.

Cape Petrels are noticeable by their black bodies that have shades of white patches dappled across their whole bodies. They have white undersides and their wings/tail feathers are black-tipped. 

Cape Petrels can be found along the Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkney Islands, Ross Sea, and South Georgia. 

Cape Petrel Facts: 

  • Average Weight: 450 – 480 g 
  • Average Length: 40 cm
  • Wingspan: 86 cm
  • Petrels mainly eat crustaceans fish, squid and shrimp.

Snow Petrel

The Snow Petrel is one of the old birds that breed only in Antarctica.  The Snow Petrel can be identified by its fully white body with black eyes, black bill, and its blue-grey feet.

Snow Petrels can be found along the Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkney Islands, Ross Sea, and South Georgia. 

Snow Petrels Facts

  • Weight: 240 to 460g, it is a characteristic of snow petrels that there can be a large range of sizes amongst individuals.
  • Length: 30 – 40 cm,
  • Wingspan: 75 – 95 cm
  • Breeding Season: Nests are made and eggs laid from October to November, the chicks fledge and leave the nest 41 – 45 days later, snow petrels can live for up to 20 years.
  • Estimated world population: – More than 4,000,000 individuals.
  • Diet: Fish, Cephalopods, Mollusks, Krill and Carrion.

Animals in Antarctica - What you can expect to see on an Expedition

White-chinned Petrel

The large White-chinned Petrels are sea lovers and are rarely sighted from the land.

White-chinned Petrels can be Identified, these heavily-built seabirds are sooty-black with black legs and feet. They have a white patch on their chin or throat. Their bill is large and stout and is pale with a black saddle on the upper mandible between the nostrils.

White-chinned Petrels can be sighted along the subantarctic islands, Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia. 

White-chinned Petrel Facts: 

  • Average Weight: .97 – 1.89 kg 
  • Average Length: 51 – 58 cm
  • Wingspan: 134 – 147 cm
  • Petrels mainly eat crustaceans fish, squid and shrimp.

NOTE: This is a vulnerable animal of Antarctica and it is at a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Blue Petrel

Spending all most of their life at sea, the Blue Petrel is normally sighted darting across the water a large speeds before lifting off into the air. 

Blue Petrels are easily identified by their white undersides and face, they have a blue-gray topside and black mask around their eyes. Their bill is black and their tail is tipped with white.

There is an M shape of darker feathers that run across the front of the wings from wingtip to wingtip. Blue Petrels can be sighted along the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia. 

Blue Petrel Facts:

  • Average Weight: 200 g 
  • Average Length: 30 cm
  • Wingspan: 17 – 20 cm
  • Petrels mainly eat crustaceans fish, squid and shrimp. 

Antarctic Prion

The Antarctic Prion is the largest of all the Prions. 

Antarctic Prions are easily identified by their blue-gray back with a white belly. Their feathers make an M shape across their back from wingtip to wingtip. Their upper tail feather has a black tip and they have blue legs and feet. 

It is common to sight Antarctic Prions in large flocks at sea. They can be found on South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands, South Orkney Island, South Shetland Island, Iles Crozet, Iles Kerguelen, Heard Island, Macquarie Island, Auckland Island and Scott Island.

Antarctic Prion Facts: 

  • Average Weight: 150 g 
  • Average Length: 28 cm
  • Wingspan: 17 – 20 cm
  • Prions mainly eat fish, squid, and shrimp. 

Slender-billed Prion

The Slender-billed Prion is named after the Greek word for saw due to their saw-like bills. Slender-billed Prions tend to flock over surfacing whales, so they can steal the fish that rises with them.

The Slender-billed Prion can be identified by it’s blue-gray back, black wings and tail, white underparts and a black patch under its eyes. The Slender-billed Prion has a dove-like body shape. 

The Slender-billed Prion can be sighted on the South Orkney Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetland Islands, Ross Sea, and South Georgia. 

NOTE: This bird is a great red flag for whales! If you see this bird circling around, you will see whales. 

Slender-billed Prion Facts:

  • Average Weight: 120 – 250 g
  • Average Length: 20 to 30 cm
  • Wingspan: 56 cm
  • Prions mainly eat fish, squid, and shrimp. 

Sooty Shearwater

The Sooty Shearwater is a bird that loves the open ocean. They are normally seen on a nice day skimming over the ocean and of a ruff day, it can be seen scaling over waves effortlessly.

The Sooty Shearwater is noticeable from its large dark body with narrow wings. The upper parts are sooty brown whist where the underparts are slightly grayer with a silver-gray flash on the outer area of the underwings. Their feet are dark gray and just barely lines up with the tail while in flight. 

Sooty Shearwaters can be sighted in the deep waters of the Southern Hemisphere stretching. On en expedition to Antarctica, you will normally see this bird while you are crossing the drake passage.

Sooty Shearwater Facts:

  • Average Weight: 1.1 lbs
  • Average Length: 40 – 50 cm
  • Wingspan: 94 – 110 cm
  • They mainly eat fish, squid, and shrimp. 

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel

The Wilson’s Storm-Petrel calls the roughest seas it home. They love open oceans and edges of pack ice. 

The Wilson’s Storm-Petrel can be identified by its dark blackish-brown overall body with white rump patch and pale wing panels. It’s long legs extend past its tail in flight. They can be extremely difficult to sight unless you are up close. 

The Wilson’s Storm-Petrel can be sighted from Antarctica to the edge of the Arctic. 

Wilson’s Strom-Petrel Facts: 

  • Average Weight: 35 g
  • Average Length: 16 – 19 cm
  • Wingspan: 16.5 cm
  • Petrels mainly eat fish crabs and shrimp. 

Black-bellied Storm-Petrel

The Black-bellied Storm-Petrel is very closely related to its northern brother the White-billed Storm-Petrel. It prefers colder water and is a true sub-Antarctic breeder. 

They can be identified by its grayish or blackish back with a black hood, dark upper wings and tail with a pale carpal bar and white wing linings as well as white underparts below its hood.

They can be hard to Identify looking so closely to the White-billed Storm-Petrel, but the Black-bellied does not have a bold black central belly strip. This can hard to see against the dark water as a background but odd’s are pretty good you will not see a White-billed Storm-Petrel while sailing to Antarctica. 

The Black-bellied Storm-Petrel can be sighted in the Pacific, Atlantic Ocean, Falkland Islands, and South Georgia. 

Black-bellied Storm-Petrel Facts:

  • Average Weight: 35 g
  • Average Length: 16 – 19 cm
  • Wingspan: 39 cm
  • Petrels mainly eat fish crabs and shrimp. 

Grey-backed Storm-Petrel 

The Grey-Backed Storm-Petrel almost blends in with the sea’s surface when it is flying across the rocky sea.

Grey-backed Storm-Petrels have dark heads, throat and upper parts, with a square-ended tail, pale grey rump with a white breast and posterior underparts.

Grey-backed Storm-Petrels are sighted throughout the tip of South America, Falklands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic Peninsula. 

Grey-backed Storm-Petrel Facts:

  • Average Weight: 35 g
  • Average Length: 16 – 19 cm
  • Wingspan: 39 cm
  • Petrels mainly eat fish crabs and shrimp. 

Animals in Antarctica - What you can expect to see on an Expedition

Common Diving Petrel

The Common Diving Petrel is referred to by many different names like the smaller diving-petrel or simply the diving-petrel. In the petrel family, there are five very similar species of birds. 

The Common Diving Petrel can be identified by its small chunky body, black above and grey and white below. It also has a short neck with a stubby black bill and blue feet. 

They can be sighted on a cruise to Antarctica while sailing through the Beagle Channel and the Strait of Magellan.

Common Diving Petrel Facts:

  • Average Weight: 130 g
  • Average Length: 20 cm
  • Wingspan: 22 cm
  • Petrels mainly eat fish crabs and shrimp. 

Magellanic Diving Petrel

The Magellanic Diving Petrel can be sighted along the Fjords, channels and the Strait of Magellan. They are very uncommon to be sighted out in open ocean waters. 

The Magellanic Diving Petrel is one of the easiest of the petrels to identify due to it’s white fringes to the upper part feathers and it’s sharp face pattern. After that it’s like all of the over diving petrels, its a small bird with mainly black above and white below. 

Magellanic Diving Petrels can be found along the shoreline of South America. The Magellanic Diving Petrel is one of those species that we really do not know much about. 

Magellanic Diving Petrel Facts:

  • Average Weight: 145 – 174 g
  • Average Length: 19 cm
  • Wingspan: 22 cm
  • Petrels mainly eat fish crabs and shrimp. 

Rock Shag/Cormorant

The Rock Shag also sometimes referred to as the Magellanic Cormorant is a monotypic species to South America.

Rock Shags are easily identified by their bright red facial skin. Adults have white lower breast, belly and cheek patches. Their white belly is what distinguishes them from the entirely black Neotropic Cormorant.

Rock Shags can be viewed along the Beagle Channel and are also sighted as far as the Cape Horn.

Rock Shag/Cormorant Facts:

  • Average Weight: 1.8 – 3.5 kg males are somewhat heavier than females
  • Average Length: 69 – 74 cm
  • Wingspan: 1.1 m 
  • Shags mainly eat fish and Invertebrates.

Neotropic Cormorant

The Neotropic Cormorant is a bird species that can be found in just about every aquatic ecosystem. 

The Neotropic Cormorants have a much thicker neck than Rock Shags and are noticeable by its lack of white plumage. Adults are black-green, Juveniles are dark brown with paler faces. Unlike its brothers (other shags) the Neotropic Cormorant lacks colorful bare facial skin and usually flies with its neck kinked.

Notoropic Cormorants are normally sighted along the Beagle Channel and also can be found as far as the Cape Horn.

Neotropic Cormorant Facts:

  • Average Weight: 1.8 – 3.5 kg males are somewhat heavier than females
  • Average Length: 69 – 74 cm
  • Wingspan: 1.1 m 
  • Shags mainly eat fish and Invertebrates.

Animals in Antarctica - What you can expect to see on an Expedition

Blue-Eyed Shag – Imperial Cormorant – Antarctic Shag

The Blue-Eyed Shag is one of our most favorite Antarctica animals. When we sailed to Antarctica all of the Blue-Eyed Shags had little babies.

The Blue-Eyed Shag is also known as the Imperial shag and the Antarctic Shag. They live in large colonies on the west coast of South America, South Georgina, South Sandwich, South Orkney, South Shetland Islands and along the Antarctic Peninsula. 

They are noticeable by their white breast, a black back, and largely white cheeks and neck. Their bills are dark brown and they have pink feet.

Blue-Eye Shag Facts

  • Average Weight: 1.8 – 3.5 kg males are somewhat heavier than females
  • Average Length: 69 – 74 cm
  • Wingspan: 1.1 m 
  • Breeding Season: Begins in October or November, 2 or 3 eggs laid, incubation 28 days, fledging age around 35 days.
  •  Shags mainly eat fish and Invertebrates.

Upland Goose

Birders who join an expedition cruise to Antarctica get excited when they see this pretty goose. 

The Upland Goose is normally sighted on in pairs. These birds are very eye-catching. The Male has a white head, black legs and is boldly barred black and white on the breast, belly, flanks, and mantle.

Where the Female has a ginger head with a boldly barred black, white and gingered on the breast, belly, flanks, and mantle.

The Upland Goose is normally sighted on an expedition cruise to Antarctica while in the Beagle channel. 

Upland Goose Facts:

  • Weight: 2.7 – 3.2 kg
  • Length: 60 – 72.5 cm 
  • Diet: The Upland Goose eats seeds, roots, grasses, sedges and algae. They are almost entirely vegetarians however they do eat small fish, snails and crabs.  

Kelp Goose

Another bird to look out for when your Antarctic expedition is sailing away from Ushuaia is the Kelp Goose. 

They can be sighted feeding along the coastal shoreline. The males are distinctive with an entirely white with a black bill and yellow legs where the females are equally unmistakable with largely blackish, with white barring on the flanks, white vent and tail, pale eye-rings and a pink bill.

They may appear to be two different species but they are really one. 

Kelp Goose Facts:

  • Weight: 2000 – 2580 grams
  • Length: 55 – 65 cm 
  • Diet: The Kelp Goose eats seeds, roots, grasses, sedges, and algae. They are almost entirely vegetarians however they do eat small fish, snails, and crabs.  

Ashy-headed Goose

This is one of the prettiest birds that can be sighted on an expedition cruise to Antarctica. The Ashy-headed Goose is notable by its bright rusty-colored breast and its ashy-gray head. 

You are likely to sight the Ashy-headed Goose in the wetlands around Ushuaia as you sail to Antarctica and along the Beagle Channel. 

Ashy-headed Goose Facts:

  • Weight: 1470 – 2267 grams
  • Length: 50 – 55 cm 
  • Diet: The Ashy-headed Goose eats seeds, roots, grasses, sedges, algae, crustacean, shrimp, and insects.

Yellow-billed Pintail 

When you think of Antarctica’s birds you don’t think about ducks. But Yellow-billed Pintails are sometimes sighted along coastal Antarctica. They are the only duck that is known to be sighted along the Antarctic Peninsula.

The Yellow-billed pintail is endemic to the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia and its accompanying archipelago. It is noticeable by its bright yellow bill with a blue and black line on the culmen and tip. Its plumage is dark brown with black spots, kind of looking like a cheetah pattern. 

Yellow-billed Pintail Facts:

  • Weight: 900 grams
  • Length: 66 – 75 cm 
  • Diet: Yellow-billed Pintails eat, seeds, roots, grasses, sedges, algae, crustacean, shrimp, and insects.
  • Wingspan: has 71 cm 

Flightless Steamer Duck

The Flightless Steamer Duck Is one of the weirdest looking birds you will see on a cruise to Antarctica.

The Flightless Steamer Duck can be identified by its large size with little wings. The Flightless Steamer Duck is fully covered with whitish-gray feathers head to tail with a bright orange bill. 

These large stocky ducks can be found along southern South America. They have extremely short wings that limited them from flying, they are normally sighted running along the water’s surface.

Flightless Steamer Duck Facts:

  • Weight: 3.5 – 7 kg
  • Length: 65 – 84 cm 
  • Diet: They eat earthworms, insect larvae, mussels, limpets, crabs and polychaete worms. 

Crested Duck

The Crested duck is known by many names, Southern crested duck, Patagonia duck and the grey duck. 

The crested duck has grey covering its face, neck, and chin, with the rest of the body plumage of a mixture of brown and gray feathers that give a mottled look. The Crested duck’s eyes are red with black pupils. 

The Crested duck can be found along the coastline of South America and the Falkland Islands near freshwater, marshlands, lakes, pools and sheltered bays on the coast. Even though they have powerful wings they can not fly very far. 

Crested Duck Facts:

  • Weight: 1 – 2.7 kg
  • Length: 50 – 60 cm 
  • Diet: They eat Invertebrates, algae, and seaweed.

Blackish Oystercatcher

The blackish Oystercatcher is a bird that you will sight either leaving South America or heading back to South America. This bird lives on the coasts all around the world except for the Arctic and Antarctic regions. It’s cut off is the Falkland Islands.

The Blackish Oystercatcher can easily be identified since it is fully covered with dark brown to black feathers with flesh-colored legs, with a short red bill, and reddish skin that outlines the eyes. 

The Blackish Oystercatcher is one of the larger seabirds that can be seen on a cruise to Antarctica. They can be found feeding on mollusks around the rocky shoreline and they frequently give off high pitched, pipping sounds. These birds can be sighted in Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands.

Blackish Oystercatcher Facts:

  • Weight: 600 – 620 grams
  • Length: 39 – 50 cm 
  • Diet: They eat earthworms, insect larvae, mussels, limpets, crabs and polychaete worms. 
  • Wingspan: 28 – 36 cm 

Magellanic Oystercatcher

Compared to the other Oystercatchers the Magellanic Oystercatcher stands out as an unusual bird. It is slimmer and has a large needle bill.

The bird also makes unearthly whistles unlike anything heard in the other species. 

The Magellanic Oystercatcher is mostly black with white on its underside. You can sight those birds in Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands. Its natural habitats are freshwater lakes and sandy shorelines. Like it’s brother the Blackish Oystercatcher the Magellanic Oystercatcher its sighting cut-off is the Falkland Islands. 

Magellanic Oystercatcher Facts:

  • Weight: 600 – 620 grams
  • Length: 39 – 50 cm 
  • Diet: They eat earthworms, insect larvae, mussels, limpets, crabs and polychaete worms. 
  • Wingspan: 28 – 36 cm 

Snowy Sheathbill

Snowy Sheathbill is known as the only land-based birds that are widespread across Antarctica. They resemble a crossbreed of a domestic hen and a pigeon. 

They are all white and noticeable by their strong broad conical-shaped bill.

Snowy Sheathbills are found throughout the Antarctic Peninsula and throughout the Scotia arc, South Shetland Islands, South Orkney, South Sandwich Islands, and South Georgia.

They migrate to the Falklands and the coastal regions of South American for the winter months but they mainly breed on Antarctica and its surrounding islands. 

Snowy Sheathbill Facts:

  • Weight: 460 – 780 grams
  • Length: 34 – 41 cm 
  • Diet: They eat everything they come across and also known as opportunistic feeders.
  • Wingspan: 75 – 80 cm 

Animals in Antarctica - Brown Skua

South Polar Skua

The South Polar Skua shows a bulky, broad-winged gull with a short wedge-shaped tail.  It is normal to see South Polar Skua’s fighting or some would say bullying other smaller birds. 

The South Polar Skua has a dark brown body with a large white patch that’s noticeable in flight. It also has a dark bill that’s thick and heavy with a short broad trail.

The South Polar Skua breeds on Antarctica and it winters in Australia. Some birds have been sighted as far north as Greenland and the Aleutian Islands. 

South Polar Skua Facts:

  • Weight: 900 – 1600 grams
  • Length: 40 – 50 cm 
  • Diet: Scavenged carrion, fish, bird eggs, chicks, rabbits carrion, and other marine invertebrates. 
  • Wingspan: 126 – 160 cm 

Brown Skua

Brown Skua is normally referenced to Antarctica’s brown seagulls. 

The Brown Skua is normally found at sea but they also have been known to be around the Antarctic Peninsula where they can be found with penguins and other nesting birds.

Some of the most popular areas to view Brown Skua’s are on King George Island in the South Shetlands as well as the nearby Antarctic Peninsula. These birds are normally silent except in defensive behavior. The skuas are one of Antarctica’s top predators. 

The Brown Skua is noticeable with brown plumage with a darkish hooked tipped beak. Its eyes are dark down and it has a webbed black fee. 

Brown Skua Facts:

  • Weight: 300 – 650 grams
  • Length: 40 – 50 cm 
  • Diet: Scavenged carrion, fish, bird eggs, chicks, rabbits carrion, and other marine invertebrates. 
  • Wingspan: 126 – 160 cm 

Chilean Skua

The Chilean Skua acts more like a gull than a skua and is sometimes miss classified as a gull. They are found along the coastline of Antarctica and migrates across the equator reaching as far as Alaska and Greenland.

Chilean Skua’s are normally smaller and less aggressive than other skuas. It also is one of the only Skua’s that have solidly rusty on the underwing linings and sometimes throughout the underparts, being the most noticeable on its throat.

Chilean Skua Facts:

  • Weight: 900 – 1600 grams
  • Length: 50 cm 
  • Diet: Scavenged carrion, fish, bird eggs, chicks, rabbits, and other marine invertebrates. 
  • Wingspan: 130 – 138 cm 

Animals in Antarctica - What you can expect to see on an Expedition

Kelp Gull

The Kelp Gulls are native to the coastlines of the southern hemisphere. They are normally found in coastal parts such as bays, inlets, beaches, and off-shore islands. 

Kelp gulls are noticeable by their white head, neck underbody, rump, and trail. The saddle and upper wing are slate-black with a white leading edge.

Kelp Gull Facts:

  • Weight: 540 – 1,390 grams
  • Length: 54 – 65 cm 
  • Diet: Scavenged carrion, bird eggs, chicks, and other marine invertebrates. 
  • Wingspan: 106 – 142 cm 

Band-Tailed Gull

The Band-Tailed Gull also known as Belcher’s gull named after the great British explorer Sir Edward Belcher are found along the coastline of the Falkland Islands, Chile, and Argentina.

They are found along the rocky coastline and are often located near freshwater, seabird and marine mammal colonies, slaughterhouse, farmyards, and sewers.

Belcher gulls are medium-sized with a blackish mantle, white head, and underparts, a black band on the otherwise whitetail, and a yellow bill with a red/black tip. 

Belcher gulls are sometimes mistaken as their larger brothers Kelp gulls.

Band-Tailed Gull Facts:

  • Weight: 300 – 700 grams
  • Length: 43 – 54 cm 
  • Diet: Scavenged carrion, bird eggs, chicks, and other marine invertebrates. 
  • Wingspan: 105 – 117 cm 

Dolphin Gull

The Dolphin Gulls are sound along the coastline of the Falkland Islands, Chile, and Argentina. They love rocky coastlines and an often near freshwater, seabird and marine mammal colonies, slaughterhouses, farmyards, and even sewers.

Dolphin Gulls are sometimes confused with tow other dark-backed gulls found in its range, the Band-Tailed and the Kelp Gull. It’s a bright red bill and dusky gray head and underpants make it distinctive from the others.

Its juvenile plumage is also different from the other gulls, with a dark gray hood, whitish belly and slaty-brown wing coverts. 

Dolphin Gull Facts:

  • Weight: 300 – 700 grams
  • Length: 40 – 46 cm 
  • Diet: Scavenged carrion, bird eggs, chicks, and other marine invertebrates. 
  • Wingspan: 104- 110 cm 

South American Tern

South American Terns are medium-sized terns that are mostly found along with coastal areas in South America. 

They have an extensive black cap and an unmarked red bill and legs. Their tail reaches beyond the wingtips when they are at rest. Their wings are a pale gray with no black on them. Non-breeding birds have a black half hood and juveniles are mottled brown on the black. 

The South American Tern looked like it’s close relative to the Antarctic Tern and that some researchers believe that these species overlap. 

You will see South American Terns along the sandy, rocky beaches of Argentina, Falklands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic Peninsula. 

South American Tern Facts:

  • Weight: 170 – 220 grams
  • Length: 41 – 43 cm 
  • Diet: Fish and crustaceans
  • Wingspan: 84-86 cm 

Antarctic Tern

The Antarctic Tern is noticeable by it’s stockier appearance than the Arctic Tern, it has a black cap on its head just like the Arctic Tern but the wingtips are gray in flight. It has a short bill with bright red short feet, compared to its relative the Arctic Tern. 

The Antarctic Terns don’t undertake any spectacular migrations, unlike other birds that visit Antarctica. They remain close to the breeding islands all year long and can form flocks of up to 100 birds. The Antarctic Tern are mostly found along exposed rocky coastlines of Antartica. 

Antarctic Terns can be found on the South Sandwich Islands, South Orkney Islands, South Shetland Islands, The Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgi Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island, Iles Kerguelen, St.Pal and Amsterdam Island. 

Antarctic Tern Facts:

  • Weight: 85-125 grams
  • Length: 25- 40 cm 
  • Diet: Fish and crustaceans
  • Wingspan: 80 cm 

Arctic Tern

The Arctic Tern is known to be one of the most nomadic birds on the planet.  they are well known for their long yearly migration that goes from one end of the pole to the next pole. 

Arctic Terns are noticeable by their black cap that is on their heads, short red legs, and a bright red bill.  Its wingtips are blackish in flight. 

These birds are social birds normally found resting on ice and gliding behind the boat, using the boat draft winds. Arctic Terns can be found around the Antarctic Peninsula, Greenland, and Svalbard. 

Arctic Tern Facts:

  • Weight: 85-125 grams
  • Length: 25- 40 cm 
  • Diet: Fish and crustaceans
  • Arctic Terns migrate from pole to pole 

Animals in Antarctica - What you can expect to see on an Expedition

Best Expedition Cruises for Viewing Birds

  • South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula: Penguin Safari – 16 days – Your adventure will begin in Ushuaia where you will sail down the historic Beagle Channel that is world-famous for its birds that hang out along its shores. On this expedition cruise to Antarctica learn to identify seabirds and birds on land in South Georgia and along the Antarctic Peninsula. Take in the sights and sounds of 100,00 nesting penguins. Explore the antarctic peninsula in search of wildlife and adventure, make sure you have your camera ready because this expedition is all about wildlife encounters and remarkable landscapes. 
  • Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica: Explorers and Kings – 20 days – This expedition to Antarctica is truly an epic wildlife adventure through the birder’s paradise of South Georgia and the extraordinary landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula. You will enjoy amazing wildlife encounters with untamed wildlife in a dramatic setting. This expedition offers a special chance to travel with scientists, researchers and special guests onboard where you can learn first hand about Penguins and even be able to help those researchers in the field while you are exploring. This is a bird lover dream trip to Antarctica. 
  • Epic Antarctica: Crossing the Circle via Falklands and South Georgia – 23 days – Why not experience everything you can in Antarctica all on one trip. On this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, you can and will experience everything and more than you can on any other trip to Antarctica due to the number of days. This is truly the ultimate trip for any traveler.

Animals in Antarctica - What you can expect to see on an Expedition

Other Wildlife in Antarctica 

Antarctica is filled with many different kinds of animals, below are the lesser common animals that you may see on an expedition to Antarctica. These Antarctic animals are pretty rare and some are even hard to see by the naked eye.

That does not mean, however, that these animals will not be talked about while you are exploring Antarctica. 

Antarctic Icefish

Not everything can survive in the icy cold waters of Antarctica year round but one Antarctic animal that can is the Antarctic Icefish. There are over 132 different kinds of species of icefish in the Channichthyidae family that live in the waters around Antarctica.

They all have heads that look a lot like a crocodile, so naturally, sometimes they are called crocodile icefishes. They have grayish, black or brown bodies, wide pectoral fins, white gills, and two dorsal fins that are supported by long flexible spines.  

One unique trait is that this fish has whitish, nearly transparent blood that acts as antifreeze keeping this fish from becoming a fish stick. 

Another unique trait that icefish have is they don’t have scales. That’s right, they are a scaleless fish. Although scientists are not quite sure how this happens. 

Icefish are known to be piscivorous but they can also feed on Krill. They also can survive long periods of time in between feeding and often consume fish up to half their own body length.

Note: Warming ocean temperatures could reduce the habitat that is suitable for Icefish to live in If it changes just a little but these extreme cold water fish could be harmed. 

Antarctic Icefish Facts:

  • Maximum body length: 25 – 50 cm
  • Icefish Eat: Plankton, small fish and krill.
  • How cold is cold? Icefish are normally found at the sea bottom in 1.5 degrees Celsius in the summer to –1.8 degrees Celsius water in the winter.

Colossal Squids

We have only explored five percent of the ocean, which means 95% of the ocean is unexplored. The colossal squid is massive and I mean a massive squid that lives in the deep sea surrounding Antarctica. 

It’s not only the largest invertebrate on Earth but it also has the largest eyes of any animal on Earth also. That means it’s eyes are even larger than those of the great whales. 

Our knowledge of Colossal Squids is limited like our knowledge of the world oceans.

Colossal Squids Facts:

  • Wight: at least 1100lbs or 500 kg
  • Length: up to 46 feet
  • Eat: small-large fishes and other quids. 
  • Sperm Whales are known to eat adults
  • Reproduction is unknown. 

Giant Antarctic Octopus

Who really knows what lurks below the cold waters of Antarctica, one animal in Antarctica that has reachers coming from all around the world to research is the Giant Antarctic Octopus. The Giant Antarctica Octopus is a very large octopus that grows bigger and lives longer than any other octopus species. 

Just imagine an octopus the size of a six-foot human. That’s how large they are, but no worries unlike most of the animals found in Antarctica you will not have an up-close and personal experience. Unless it gets you while your sailing or when you do the polar plunge. 

The Giant Antarctic Octopus survives in Antarctica’s icy waters by drilling small holes in large shelled mollusks then injecting it poisonous saliva so it can feed, yes it’s venom even works at the subfreezing temperatures. 

Giant Antarctic Octopus Facts:

  • Weight: 22 to 100 lbs
  • Size: 9.75 to 16 feet
  • Average Life Spain: 3-5 years

Flightless Midges

When you think of Antarctica you don’t think of insects, right? Well, you are wrong. Flightless Midge is an extreme insect that lives in Antarctica. It’s one of the only true insects native to Antarctica.

The Antarctic Midge has a long slender body with no wings, it looks like a cross between an ant and a grasshopper. It spends most of its life in a larval form, frozen in the Antarctic ice. 

Antarctic Midges are important to research due to the insect’s ability to survive extreme temperature swings, hight exposure to ultraviolet light and other harsh conditions. We have only discovered an icily pin-drop about Antarctic Midges. 

Tardigrades

Tardigrades are minuscule organisms that can be found throughout all of Antarctica. Known as water bears or moss piglets Tardigrades are water-dwelling eight-legged segmented micro animals. If you want to see them ask one of your expedition leaders, they will have photos or they will take field samples for you to view. 

Tardigrades can look like worms in the mud and are thought as nails. They are found all over the world from the tallest mountain peaks to the driest deserts to bone-chilling cold Antarctica.

It is impossible to kill a Tardigarades. They can be freeze, boiled, crushed, zapped with radiation and deprived of food and water for years and they will wiggle back to life. 

What’s so fasting about the Tardigrades in Antarctica is that they were there when Antarctica was a tropical climate and that today’s research on Tardigrades has only scratched the surface in understanding not just these creatures but Antarctica also. 

Marbled Rockcod

The Marbled Rockcod is one of the only fish that can be found swimming in the waters around Antarctica. It’s one of Antarctica’s animals that have learned to cope with the icy waters by turning its body fluids into a type of biological antifreeze.  

The Marbled Rockcod is just one of the many amazing Antarctic animals you will learn about while on an expedition to Antarctica. 

The Marbled Rockcod can be found at the end of the Antarctic Peninsula, around Scotia Arc, off Price Edward, Crozet, Kerguelen, Heard, McDonald and the Macquarie Island. 

Marbled Rock Cod Facts:

  • Average Weight: 10 kg
  • Average Length: 92 cm
  • Lifespan: 12 years
  • Depth Range: 5-350 m deep
  • Spawns: Once a year. 

Animals in Antarctica - What you can expect to see on an Expedition

Antarctic Krill (Phytoplankton/ Zooplankton)

One of the most important animals found in Antarctica is not the ever-popular penguins or the show-stopping whales, its what feeds them. Krill are the most important animal found in Antarctica. They are small crustaceans found throughout the ocean and they play a very important role in the aquatic food chain. 

Antarctic Krill provides the food source for Antarctica’s most popular animals like whales, seals, ice fish, and penguins. These animals depend on eating large and I mean large quantities of krill for survival.

Krill themselves eat small plants like phytoplankton as well as algae under the surface of sea ice. Once the ice surface shrinks so does the algae, the krill, and those poplar animals like the whales, seals, ice fish, and penguins. That is why Krill is the most important wildlife in Antarctica. 

Krill are recognized as key species in many ecosystems all over the world and even in the United States, they have banned krill fishing off the Pacific Coast. 


Animals in Antarctica You Can See During a VisitAre We Missing Something?

Are we missing an animal that can be viewed while on a cruise to Antarctica? Do we have something listed wrong? Tell us so we can provide the best information to our readers and soon to be travelers to Antarctica. 

Recommended Tours
Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent
12 Days
Adventure Options: Camping, Hiking, Kayaking, SUP and Cross Country Skiing
Antarctic Express: Fly the Drake
8 Days
Adventure Options: Kayaking and SUP
- Experience the fastest, most direct way to Antarctica
- Fly over the Drake Passage
Epic Antarctica: Crossing the Circle via Falklands and South Georgia
23 Days
Adventure Options: Camping, Hiking, Kayaking and SUP
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About David Stock

I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.



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