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32 Awesome Animals In Antarctica (And Birds Too!)

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Antarctica is home to animals like this sleeping Weddell seal
Antarctica is home to animals like this sleeping Weddell seal

When you picture Antarctica, you probably imagine huge expanses of icy wilderness, buffeted by freezing winds. Or turbulent grey seas, studded with enormous icebergs. Not exactly a haven for wildlife, you may think. If so, you might be surprised to hear that there are actually loads of animals in Antarctica.

In fact, despite the freezing conditions the Antarctic region is a huge wildlife haven, where around 235 species of animals have perfectly adapted to life, relatively protected from the harm caused by humans.

Penguins are the most iconic birds in Antarctica
Penguins are the most iconic birds in Antarctica

I spent three weeks on an incredible expedition voyage to the Falklands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic continent. Along the way, I saw, and photographed, dozens of different animal and bird species, almost all of them ones I had never seen before. Thanks to the amazing guides on our ship I learned loads about them, and now I am sharing this knowledge (and the photos!) with you.

So whether you’re planning your own Antarctica trip and want to know more about the animals and birds you might see, or you are just curious about Antarctic wildlife, read on!

There are loads of amazing animals that live in Antarctica
There are loads of amazing animals that live in Antarctica

Animals in Antarctica: Seals

Seals (as well as sea lions and walruses) are pinnipeds – carnivorous marine mammals that have front and rear flippers instead of feet. They spend most of their time in the sea, but your best chance of seeing these animals in Antarctica is when they come onto the ice or land to breed, rest, and escape from predators such as orcas.

Seals in Antarctica spend a lot of their time resting, making them quite easy to spot
Seals in Antarctica spend a lot of their time resting, making them quite easy to spot

Seals are divided into two groups, ‘true’ seals, which have no visible ears (though they do still have very small ear holes), and ‘eared’ seals, which have visible ear flaps.

There are six species of seals in Antarctica: Elephant, Weddell, leopard, fur, crabeater and the rare Ross seal.

1/ Weddell seal

Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii), which are ‘true’ seals, get their name from the Weddell Sea in Antarctica, which was discovered by James Weddell in the 1820s. They are quite common Antarctic animals and can frequently be found around the coasts of the Antarctic peninsula. They are also quite calm and placid, making them one of the easier seals to get close to without risk.

The Weddell seal is a fairly common animal in Antarctica
The Weddell seal is a fairly common animal in Antarctica

Weddell seals are some of the largest seals, measuring about three metres long, with the females slightly bigger than the males. They’re recognisable from their dappled grey or brown fur coats and cute face which, with its placid expression and long whiskers, looks a bit like a cat’s.

They spend most of their time in the water hunting fish, squid or octopus and can stay underwater for up to 45 minutes. When resting they prefer ‘fast-ice’ (ice that is anchored to land and does not drift) and can often be found in small groups.

Conservation status: least concern

2/ Southern elephant seal

The southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) is the biggest type of seal and the biggest marine mammal that isn’t a whale. Elephant seals get their name because of their size, and also because the males have a large, elongated proboscis, a bit like an elephant’s trunk. Bull southern elephant seals can weigh up to 4000 kg, twice as heavy as a walrus or a rhino, while females are much smaller, typically weighing less than 900 kg.

Animals in Antarctica: Female elephant seals in South Georgia
Female elephant seals in South Georgia

Elephant seals don’t live on the pack ice of Antarctica, but can be found on sub-Antarctic islands such as the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Macquarie Island. Here, during breeding season, colonies of elephant seals gather on the beaches, and as well as being able to see pups, you may witness fights breaking out between rival males as they battle for dominance over the harems of females.

Conservation status: Least concern

3/ Leopard seal

Leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) are easy to recognise, with a dark and light grey ‘leopard’ spotted coat, a long, muscular body, and a reptilian-looking head with a long snout and powerful jaws. They’re the second biggest seals after elephant seals and are powerful and aggressive hunters.

The leopard seal is one of the top predators of all the animals in Antarctica
The leopard seal is one of the top predators of all the animals in Antarctica

They eat almost anything, including the pups of other seals, and if you are lucky you may see them hunting penguins in the water. They have been known to attack inflatable boats and even, very rarely, humans.

Leopard seals can be found on pack ice around the Antarctic continent and are solitary Antarctic animals. They breed on the sea ice so you are unlikely to ever see pups, but you may well spot a solitary adult resting on an ice floe in the coastal waters.

Conservation status: Least concern

4/ Antarctic fur seal

The Antarctic or southern fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) is a large, heavy seal, most notable for its thick and shaggy fur coat. In the 18th and 19th centuries, this made it particularly attractive to sealers, who hunted it almost to extinction for its fur and also it blubber. Thankfully, populations have now recovered well.

Male southern fur seal guarding his territory on the beach in South Georgia
Male southern fur seal guarding his territory on the beach in South Georgia

Fur seals mainly live and breed around the sub-Antarctic islands, and 95% of the global population lives on South Georgia. Here, every year during the southern summer, males arrive on the beaches to claim a patch. Each male hopes that when the females arrive shortly afterwards, his patch will give him access to the best females. These ‘beachmaster’ males will defend their patch viciously and mate with as many females as possible.

Conservation status: Least Concern

5/ Crabeater seal

There are somewhere between about 4 million and 15 million crabeater seals (Lobodon carcinophaga) in Antarctica, and while their true population is unknown, what is certain is that they are the most abundant seal species and among the most numerous animals in Antarctica.

A crabeater seal rests on an ice floe in Antarctica
A crabeater seal rests on an ice floe in Antarctica

Despite their name, crabeater seals eat krill rather than crabs. Their name derives from the German word for crustaceans, which is ‘krebs’. They are perfectly adapted for this plentiful food source, with specially-jagged teeth for gulping up mouthfuls of krill and straining out the seawater.

Since they are so common, you’re likely to see crabeater seals in Antarctica. You’ll most often find them on the pack ice offshore, where they gather in groups sometimes several hundred strong to rest, breed, and avoid leopard seals, their main predator.

Conservation status: Least concern

6/ Ross seal

You’ll be extremely lucky to spot a Ross Seal on your Antarctica adventure, because they are quite rare and only live and breed on the Antarctic pack ice. As a result, they are the among the least-studied and least-known animals in Antarctica. They get their name from James Ross, a British explorer who visited the region in the 1841 and identified the first specimen.

Ross seal, Antarctica
The Ross seal is so rare I didn’t see one. Photo: Wikimedia commons

Ross seals are ‘true seals’ and are related to leopard and crabeater seals, though they are a little smaller, weighing in at around 200kg. They are thought to breed in around November or December; the female has a single pup which is weaned after just four weeks.

Ross seals mostly eat squid and fish, and are themselves eaten by orcas and leopard seals. Although their numbers are relatively small, they are not thought to be declining.

Conservation status: Least concern

Photo of penguins in Antarctica
Gentoo penguins are common in Antarctica

Animals that live in Antarctica: Penguins

With their funny expressions and almost human-like mannerisms, penguins are probably the most popular animals in Antarctica. Including the ones that frequent the sub-Antarctic islands, there are eight penguin species in the region, and you will probably spot many of them if you are ever lucky enough to land on the seventh continent.

Here’s who to look out for…

7/ King penguin

King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) are one of the most iconic types of penguin in Antarctica. They can be found mainly on the sub-Antarctic islands like the Falklands and South Georgia, though you may also spot them around the northern tip of the peninsula.

King penguin parent and chick, South Georgia
King penguin and chick, South Georgia Island

King penguins are the second largest species of penguin, recognisable by their white bellies and black heads with orange patches on the cheeks, breast and bill. King penguin chicks are brown and fluffy for the first year, after which they moult to reveal their adult plumage.

When they breed, king penguins gather together in huge colonies, sometimes containing hundreds of thousands of birds. They don’t build nests – instead the female lays a single egg and incubates it on her feet. Both parents take turns caring for the chick while the other goes to sea to hunt.

Conservation status: Least concern

8/ Gentoo penguin

Gentoos (Pygoscelis papua) are one of the most common types of penguins in Antarctica, with an estimated population numbering around 770,000 individuals. Measuring up to about 90 cm (3 feet) tall, they’re also the third largest species after king penguins and emperor penguins.

Gentoo penguins diving into the freezing Antarctic sea
Gentoo penguins diving into the freezing Antarctic sea

Gentoos have distinctive orange beaks, a small white patch above the eye, and a white stripe down the wing. They breed in colonies on rocky areas close to the sea, which they reach by means of ‘penguin highways’ – well-worn routes through the snow which all the penguins follow.

They build small nests on the ground from stones and twigs in which the female will usually lay two eggs, though sadly many of the chicks don’t make it to adulthood, because they are often preyed upon by skuas (scroll down to find out more about those).

If you’re planning a trip to Antarctica, you should see Gentoos around the Antarctic peninsula, as well as on the Falklands, South Georgia, and the South Shetlands.

Conservation status: Least concern

Read more: The 8 Types Of Penguins In Antarctica: A Photo Guide

9/ Emperor penguin

When you picture a penguin, the emperor (Aptenodytes forsteri) is probably the one you think of. This is the penguin of Happy Feet and March of the Penguins, recognisable by its yellow cheek patches and the orange stripe on its beak. Adult emperors look similar to kings but are taller and heavier, and the chicks are very different – grey with white faces rather than all brown.

Emperor penguins are probably the most famous animals in Antarctica
Emperor penguins are probably the most famous animals in Antarctica

Emperors are the largest penguin in the world, reaching over four feet tall and weighing up to 45 kg (100 lb). Unfortunately they are also among the hardest to spot because they breed during the southern winter in some of the coldest, remotest parts of the region, in areas not normally visited by Antarctica expeditions.

Conservation status: Near Threatened

10/ Adélie penguin

The little, beady-eyed Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) is one you should have no trouble spotting on an Antarctica trip, since there an estimated 10 million of them living on the planet today. Many of them can be found along the coast of the Antarctic peninsula, where they gather to breed in colonies along the rocky shorelines.

The Adelie is probably the cutest type of penguin
The Adelie is probably the cutest type of penguin

Adélies are related to Gentoos and are the smallest species of penguin in Antarctica, measuring up to 70 cm tall. They are named after Adèle D’Urville, the wife of a 19th-century French Antarctic explorer called Jules Dumont d’Urville.

Conservation status: Least concern

11/ Chinstrap penguin

The Chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarcticus) is another small Antarctic penguin, similar to the Adélie but with a small black eye and the very distinctive black stripe around its face that gives it its name. They’re the most abundant type of penguin and one of the most common animals in Antarctica, and can frequently be seen sharing colony space with the Adélies, where they are known for being quite aggressive.

Image of chinstrap penguins porpoising
Chinstraps are known for their ‘porpoising’ swimming technique

Chinstraps are powerful swimmers and have a distinctive swimming technique known as ‘porpoising’, where they leap into the air as they swim along. Since air has less resistance than water, this allows them to travel at speeds of up to 30 km/h (18 mph). On land they’re just as efficient, often lying on their bellies and sliding across the snow rather than walking.

Conservation status: Least concern

12/ Macaroni penguin

Macaroni penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus) are one of six types of crested penguins, two of which live in Antarctica. They have red eyes, thick orange bills, and a bright yellow tuft of feathers on the top of the head.

Macaroni penguins
Macaroni penguins. Photo: Ramon Lucas.

Macaronis are named after the ‘Macaroni club’, a group of flamboyant young men in the 18th century who used to dress up in brightly-coloured fashions. Like many types of penguins, including Chinstraps and Gentoos, they build small nests from stones and lay two eggs – though normally only one survives. When the chick hatches, the parents take turns looking after it while the other forages for food.

Conservation status: Vulnerable

13/ Rockhopper penguin

The other type of crested penguin in Antarctica is the Rockhopper. These have a smaller crest than the Macaronis, and it’s mainly black with only a small patch of yellow. Rockhoppers tend to live in rocky areas, away from the ice, and get their name from the clumsy way in which they jump from rock to rock.

There are three subspecies of Rockhoppers, but the one that lives in the Antarctic region is the Southern Rockhopper (Eudyptes chrysocome).

Photo of two rockhopper penguins, one of the different types of penguins in Antarctica
The rockhopper is one of the noisiest and most aggressive types of penguin

Rockhoppers don’t live on Antarctica itself, but can be found in the slightly warmer areas like the Falklands and the southern tip of South America. Despite their small size, they are known for being very noisy and aggressive, often fighting with their neighbours and other birds like albatrosses for nesting space or food. They’re also not shy and very curious, so will often approach humans.

Conservation status: Vulnerable

14/ Magellanic penguin

The last species of penguin that you may find around Antarctica is the Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus). These are named after the famous Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who is said to have first spotted them when he visited the southern tip of South America in 1520.

The Magellanic penguin has a pink eye and two black chest stripes
The Magellanic penguin has a pink eye and two black chest stripes

Like the Rockhoppers, Magellanic penguins don’t actually venture to the chilly wilds of the Antarctic continent, but can be found around the northern parts of the region and around the south of Argentina and Chile.

Magellanics are recognisable by the white crescent around their heads, two black bands across the chest, and a pink patch above the eye, which appears during breeding season. They are quite shy and will run away when humans come near, unlike other species of penguins in Antarctica which are often more curious.

Conservation status: Least concern

Whales are the largest and most impressive animals in Antarctica
Whales are the largest and most impressive animals in Antarctica

Antarctica Animals: Whales

Whales are some of the most magnificent creatures in the natural world and the largest animals in Antarctica. An Antarctic cruise is a fantastic way to spot whales, not only because you spend a lot of time at sea, giving you a greater chance of seeing them, but also because there are many different species of whales that live in or visit the Antarctic region.

Whales are divided into two types: baleen whales, which swallow huge gulps of water and then filter out the krill, and toothed whales, which eat larger prey using their sharp teeth.

Here are some of the most common ones…

Humpback whales are quite easy to spot in Antarctica
Humpback whales are quite easy to spot in Antarctica

15/ Humpback whale

The humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) is one of the most common whales in Antarctica, and it’s easy to spot thanks to the way it moves. Humpback whales travel alone or in groups of up to around five animals, swimming slowly near the surface and coming up to breathe about every 5-10 minutes. When they exhale into the cold air they make a ‘blow’ or puff that can be seen from a long way off. Shortly afterwards, the whale will dive again, showing its fluke.

Humpbacks are quite easy to recognise because they are often covered with scars and barnacles. Each humpback also has a unique pattern of white and brown markings on its tail, which identifies it like a fingerprint.

If you're lucky you may see a humpback whale breaching
If you’re lucky you may see a humpback whale breaching

Humpbacks are also great acrobats and can often be seen breaching – jumping out of the water with their whole body and then slapping back down. It’s one of the most thrilling things you will see on any Antarctica whale-watching expedition.

Conservation status: Least concern

16/ Orca

The Orca (Orcinus orca), also known as the killer whale, is probably the most famous and easily-recognised of all the animals in Antarctica. With its hooked dorsal fin, white patch, and near-celebrity status thanks to films like ‘Free Willy’ and ‘Blackfish’, the Orca is a real highlight of an Antarctica voyage.

Orcas are the celebrity Antarctic animals
Orcas are the celebrity Antarctic animals. Photo: Mike Doherty

Orcas are toothed whales and are actually the largest member of the dolphin family, measuring about 10 metres long and weighing around 10 tons. As their ‘killer’ name suggests, they are the ocean’s most efficient predators, hunting in packs and working together to catch penguins, fish, seals and even other whales.

Conservation status: Not known due to lack of data.

17/ Blue whale

The blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is the largest animal in Antarctica – and indeed the largest living creature on the planet. Weighing an average of 120 tons (that’s the weight of about 30 elephants) and measuring around 30 metres long, a blue whale has a heart the size of a small car and a tongue that weighs as much as an adult elephant.

They are also some of the longest living animals, with some blue whales living more than 200 years.

The blue whale is the most magnificent animal in Antarctica
The blue whale is the most magnificent animal in Antarctica. Photo by janeb13

Blue whales are actually grey, but when seen underwater in the right light they glow luminous blue, which is how they get their name. Blue whales are baleen whales, and they mainly live off huge amounts of krill – 5 tonnes a day! – which they filter from the water using their huge baleen plates. They normally live alone or in pairs, but can ‘talk’ to each other and be heard by other whales a thousand miles away.

Conservation status: Endangered, though their population is increasing.

18/ Antarctic Minke whale

The Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) is another krill-eating baleen whale. Its name is pronounced ‘Minky’ and it’s the second smallest type of whale in the world after the dwarf sperm whale, measuring about 10 metres (35 feet) and weighing up to 15 tons.

Unlike humpbacks, Minke whales have very smooth skin and long, pointed snouts. Their bodies are dark grey with a pale grey or white underside.

Minke whale in Antarctica
Minke whale. Photo: Anne Smrcina/NOAA

Minkes are solitary and usually travel alone, but they are also curious and will sometimes approach boats, which is great for spotting them in Antarctica. It’s not, however, such a great idea for the whales, since Common Minke whales are still hunted in Norway, Japan and Iceland.

Conservation status: Near threatened

19/ Fin whale

The fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) is the second biggest species of whale and is related to the blue whale. Nicknamed the ‘greyhound of the sea’, these whales are super fast, reaching speeds of up to 45 km per hour.

32 Awesome Animals In Antarctica (And Birds Too!)
Fin whale. Photo: Aqqa Rosing-Asvid via Wikimedia Commons

Like their blue cousins, fin whales are baleen whales, and spend about three hours a day feeding, scooping up as much as 10 kg of krill per gulp into their huge mouths. They also hunt schools of small fish, encircling them to force them into a ball before gulping them down.

Fin whales usually move solo, in pairs, or in pods of up to around six. They can live up to about 90 years old.

Conservation status: Vulnerable

20/ Sei whale

Sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis) – pronounced ‘say’ – are one of the few whales with a dorsal fin, making them quite easy to recognise.

Antarctic animals: Sei whale
Sei whale. Photo: Christin Khan

They are quite rare in Antarctica as they tend to prefer warmer waters; however when they do visit they tend to spend time feeding near the surface, so you may still be able to spot them. Sei whales are baleen whales and mainly eat zooplankton and small fish, consuming about 900 kg (2,000 lb) a day.

They are one of the fastest swimmers of all whales and dolphins, reaching a top speed of 50 mph. They usually travel alone or in pods of up to about six.

Conservation status: Endangered

21/ Southern right whale

There are three types of right whales, but the southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) is the one found in Antarctica.

Right whales get their name from the 18th and 19th century whaling industry – the whalers decided these were the ‘right’ whales to catch because their thick blubber made them the most lucrative, and because they float when dead.

Unfortunately this meant they were almost driven to extinction, until killing them was banned in 1937 (though illegal whaling still carried on for several decades afterwards). Happily, their population is now recovering.

Antarctica animals: Southern Right Whale
Southern Right Whale. Photo: Olga Ernst via Wikimedia Commons

You can recognise right whales by the crusty-looking lumps on their heads, which are actually calluses and are often full of barnacles. Each one is unique and helps scientists to identify them.

Southern whales are sociable and curious, and have been known to be quite playful around humans. They also sometimes stick their flukes in the air and allow the wind to push them along – a behaviour known as ‘sailing’.

Conservation status: Least concern because their population is increasing.

Antartica isn't just about the animals, there are loads of birds too
Antarctica isn’t just about the animals, there are loads of birds too

Animals of Antarctica: Seabirds

As well as penguins and Antarctic animals like whales and seals, Antarctica is also home to a huge variety of seabirds. There are far too many to list them all, but here are a few of the more common ones you may spot on an Antarctic cruise.

22/ Kelp gull

Kelp gulls (Larus dominicanus) have white heads and bodies, yellow bills and feet, and black wings. They’re up to 65 cm (26 in) long with wingspan of up to 140 cm (56 in). They can be spotted around coasts and islands throughout much of the southern hemisphere, including Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands.

The kelp gull is a common bird in Antarctica
The kelp gull is a common bird in Antarctica

Kelp gulls are omnivorous predators and scavengers, feeding on small fish and animals living or dead. They’ve even been known to peck the blubber of living right whales, leaving them with open sores.

Conservation status: Least concern

23/ Brown Skua

The Brown Skua (Catharacta antarctica) is also known as the Antarctic Skua or Southern Skua, and is a predatory seabird the size of a large seagull.

The skua is one of the meanest birds in Antarctica
The skua is one of the meanest birds in Antarctica

Skuas are famed for their aggressive predatory behaviour, attacking other birds to steal their food, lurking round penguin colonies to snap up eggs and young chicks, or even feasting on seal pups. The sight of a skua, its entire head covered in blood from the inside a recently-deceased seal, is one of the more stomach-churning things you may see in Antarctica.

Conservation status: Least concern

24/ Imperial cormorant

Imperial cormorants or blue-eyed shags (Leucocarbo atriceps) used to be a favourite among sailors, because they keep their nests all year round and don’t fly too far from land. The sight of a shag flying past was a welcome vision meaning land was nearby.

Imperial cormorants were popular with early Antarctic sailors
Imperial cormorants were popular with early Antarctic sailors

These birds have many names, but whether they are referred to as shags or cormorants, king or imperial, it’s all the same bird with a white belly, dark brown wings, bright blue rings round the eyes, pink legs and a yellow patch above the beak. They eat mainly small fish and crustaceans, and can dive down to 60 m (200 ft) to collect food from the seabed.

Conservation status: Least Concern

25/ Arctic Tern

Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea) are strongly migratory, seeing two summers each year. As their name suggests, in the northern summer they head north to the Arctic, and then in the second half of the year they fly all the way to Antarctica for a second summer (these guys have got it right!). This means they make annual round trips of about 90,000 km (56,000 mi) – the longest migration in the animal kingdom.

Arctic terns migrate all the way from the Arctic to Antarctica!
Arctic terns migrate all the way from the Arctic to Antarctica!

Arctic terns are medium-sized birds, measuring up to 40 cm long, with grey and white plumage, black heads, and bright red beaks and legs. They feed on small fish and marine invertebrates, and can live up to 30 years.

Conservation status: Least concern

26/ Snowy sheathbill

There are two types of sheathbill, snowy (Chionis albus) and black-faced, but the snowy sheathbill is the only land bird native to the Antarctic continent.

Snowy sheathbill
Snowy sheathbill. Photo: Gordon Leggett / Wikimedia Commons

Snowy sheathbills have white plumage, a pink face and yellow bill, and are the only Antarctic birds that don’t have webbed feet. During the day, they spend most of their time hunting, attacking penguins feeding their chicks to steal the regurgitated fish, or even eating eggs and chicks.

They’ve also been known to eat carrion, animal faeces and rubbish, so basically they are totally disgusting, despite their whiter-than-snow appearance!

Conservation status: Least concern

27/ Giant petrel

There are several different types of petrel but the one you are most likely to see on any Antarctica trip is the giant petrel. They come in two subspecies – southern (Macronectes giganteus) and northern (Macronectes halli) – though both can be found in the Antarctic region.

Giant petrels are large seabirds, almost as big as an albatross, and look pretty similar, with mottled grey or brown plumage and hooked bills. They can be hard to tell apart, though on southern giant petrels the bill is more of a greenish colour, while on the northern it’s more pinky.

Southern giant petrel, Antarctica
Southern giant petrel, Antarctica

Giant petrels are opportunistic omnivores, mainly eating fish and squid, but they will also eat carrion or other birds. They are frequently seen following fishing boats or other ships looking for food, so you are almost guaranteed to see them following your cruise ship.

Conservation status: Least Concern

28/ Cape petrel

The cape petrel (Daption capense), also known as the cape pigeon or cape fulmar, is another very common type of petrel. They are smaller than giant petrels, and have very distinctive spotty black and white plumage, with black heads, white belly, and a black band at the end of the tail.

The Cape petrel has pretty black and white markings
The Cape petrel has pretty black and white markings

Like their giant cousins, cape petrels are known for following ships looking for food. They usually eat krill, fish and squid, which they catch by diving into the water.

Cape petrels (and indeed almost all petrels) produce a special oil from their stomach which they can either regurgitate as energy-rich food for themselves or their chicks, or spit at enemies as a form of defence.

Conservation status: Least concern

29/ Snow petrel

Snow petrels (Pagodroma nivea) have some of the most southerly breeding sites of any bird in the world. They frequently nest on the Antarctic continent and have even been spotted at the South Pole.

They’re about 40 cm long and are easily recognisable with their snowy white plumage and black eyes and beak.

Snowy petrel
Snowy petrel: Photo: Samuel Blanc

The name ‘petrel’ is said to refer to Saint Peter, who walked on water. This is because petrels run across the surface of the sea while taking off.

Snow petrels mate for life and can live about 20 years.

Conservation status: Least concern

30/ Black-browed albatross

There are 22 species of albatross, many of which can be found around Antarctic waters. Commonly spotted albatrosses include the grey-headed, the light-mantled, the southern royal albatross, and the most common albatross of all, the black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris).

The black-browed albatross is a very elegant bird
The black-browed albatross is a very elegant bird

Black-browed albatrosses are beautifully elegant, with crisp white heads, peachy-pink bills and a slash of black above the eye that looks like a 60s eyeliner flick. In flight they glide effortlessly through the air; in fact they are so efficient at flying that their heart rate hardly rises above resting rate.

Like petrels, they eat carrion, crustaceans, fish, offal and squid, which they either steal from other birds or grab from the surface of the sea. They typically nest, and can mostly be found, in colonies on the sub-Antarctic islands like the Falklands and South Georgia.

Conservation status: Near Threatened

31/ Wandering albatross

Albatrosses are the largest of all the seabirds, and the biggest of all is the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans). They can reach up to 135 cm long and have the largest wingspan in the world, reaching a massive 3.5 metres (11 ft 6).

With these huge wings they can stay in the air without flapping for several hours at a time, and they spend most of their life in flight. Because of this, they have almost no predators.

The wandering albatross is one of the birds you may see in Antarctica
The wandering albatross is one of the birds you may see in Antarctica. Photo: JJ Harrison

Wandering albatrosses mate for life (which in the case of these huge birds can be more than 50 years), and breed only once every two years. They breed on just a few of the sub-Antarctic islands including South Georgia and Prince Edward Islands, but their range includes the whole of the area around the northern part of Antarctica, so with luck you may spot one on your journey.

Conservation status: Vulnerable

32/ Southern fulmar

The southern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides), also known as the Antarctic fulmar, is another bird you may see following along after your ship. It’s one of the larger petrels, measuring up to 50 cm (20 in) long, with a light grey body, darker wingtips, and a pink beak.

Southern fulmar
Southern fulmar. Photo: JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons

Fulmars look similar to seagulls but are different due to their straighter wings and tube noses. Petrels and albatrosses also have these tube-like nostrils on top of their bills. These give them an exceptionally good sense of smell – vital when flying around hunting for food.

Conservation status: Least concern

How to take amazing photos of animals in Antarctica

If you’re heading to Antarctica and you’d like to learn how to take great photos of the wildlife there, or you simply want to see more awesome photos of the wonderful Antarctic wildlife, check out my 60+ Awesome Antarctica Photography Tips

And that’s it! 31 amazing animals and birds that live in Antarctica, and that you might be lucky enough to spot if you take a trip there. Don’t forget to check out some of my other Antarctica posts to find out more about this amazing place and how you can visit. And if you’ve been, or you have questions, I’d love to hear about it! Drop me a comment below!

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