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September 28, 2017

There is plenty of animal life in Antarctica. It is a continent of extreme conditions but animals thrive here at certain times of the year. Most Antarctic animal life revolves around the sea in some way or another – so if you are headed on a trip with Expeditions Online – polar expedition and cruise specialists – then you will have the chance to see some spectacular animal life in Antarctica. Here are our favoured top ten animals you can see in Antarctica – some more rare than others: 

10. Adélie Penguins

Along with the Emperor penguin, which we will come to later, the Adélie Penguins are the most southerly of the Antarctic penguins and they will usually be found on pack ice on the Antarctic continent and the sub Antarctic islands. They are a smaller branch of the penguin family, weighing in at an average of 5kg and measuring less than a metre tall – at around 70cm. They breed from November through to February and you will likely hear and smell a rookery before you see it. Rookeries are large and noisy affairs and can contain up to half a million birds! The males begin the breeding process with making a nest from pebbles that sits slightly above the land to protect it from flooding. And both parents will share duties on rearing the young.  They are an interesting sight to see on a polar expedition. Take a look at our East Antarctica cruise where the Adélie penguin will abound. 

9. Chinstrap penguins

Chinstrap penguins are one of the smallest types of penguins weighing an average of 4.5kg in weight and measuring around 65cm tall. They are so called because of the line of black feathers that wraps around their chin and looks like a strap. Usually, they will be found breeding on rocky coasts away from the ice from December to March on Sub Antarctic and Antarctic islands as well as the Antarctic Peninsula. Like the Adélie penguins they can be quite noisy and aggressive, particularly when it comes to the stones that make up their nests that are stolen and retrieved and stolen again! Their behaviour as well as their unique markings make them a very watchable species during your polar cruise. Take a look at our Arctic peninsula cruise where you’ll encounter plenty of this type of penguin, here.

8. Leopard Seals

The Leopard Seal is so named because of the spots on its coat that are reminiscent of the cat. They are fierce predators – like their namesakes and will feed on other smaller seals, fish, squid and penguins  - often waiting below an ice shelf waiting for the birds to dive to find food.  They can weigh anything from 300-500kg and measure around 3.5 to 3.8 metres long. They can be found on the sub-Antarctic islands and on open pack ice, usually quite close to penguin colonies during breeding season.  Find out more about one of our expeditions to the home of the leopard seal here.


7. Elephant Seals

The Elephant seal is the largest of all seals in Antarctica – a formidable sight to see on an Antarctic expedition. Males can range anywhere from 1,500 kg to 3,700kg whilst females just 600kg to 800kg. So there’s a huge difference in size between the sexes – this is called sexual dimorphism and is so prevalent that sometimes females are mistaken for juveniles when they are spotted next to a male. You can find them throughout the Antarctic region – particularly on sub Antarctic islands, and they are sometimes found as far north as the Falkland Islands. They are impressive divers and can dive for as long as 20 minutes to depths of 500 metres. Find out more about our Photographer’s Antarctica and South Georgia trip which takes in Elephant seals during their breeding season.

6. Snow Petrels

Snow Petrels are arguably one of the smallest and yet most beautiful animals that live in the Antarctic. They are pure white in colour – apart from their black eyes and beak. They are about the same size as a pigeon but they are fascinating because, even though they are so small, they are mighty and cope with the extreme Antarctic conditions and wind-chill. In fact, they can live for up to 20 years, and as a result there are around 4 million of these birds in the wild. They lay their eggs from October onwards into November, and chicks will fledge within around 6 weeks. They can be found near open water – close to pack ice and or continuous ice around the Antarctic continent. Find out more about one of the trips where you may encounter the beautiful bird here.

5. King Penguins

Like the Emperor penguins, the King penguins are seen as representative of the species. They are the second largest penguin after the Emperor and weigh in at around 15kg on average. They can be identified with the golden feathers around their head as well as their necks and explorers will find them living on sub Antarctic islands – where they will form huge colonies on slopes close the sea. Major colonies can be seen on South Georgia, Macquarie Island, Prince Edward Island and Heard Island. They have a complex breeding system in that they can be either late or early breeders and will raise an average of 2 chicks every three years. This means that there are almost always juveniles around to see.  Find out about our expeditions to see King Penguins here.

4. Emperor penguins

Of all the breeds of penguins, the Emperor is synonymous with Antarctica and perhaps the most recognisable of all the animals that live in the Antarctic. It might be one of the birds you picture when you imagine traveling to the area. They are very regal looking and also the largest – weighing in at an average of 30kg. With golden feathers around the side of their heads, they are easily identifiable. That and the fact they live all around the coasts of Antarctica. They live and breed on sea ice and are the only species of bird to never set foot on land. Emperor penguins are fascinating as they breed in the depths of winter in the most desolate places on the continent, if not the earth. The first birds were seen on Captain Cook’s second voyage in the late 18th Century and Lt. Reginald Skelton found the first breeding colony on Scott’s voyage 1901-1904. Find out more about our Emperor Penguin voyage here.


3. Killer whales

There are up to 100,000 killer whales in the world. They can be found in each of the earth’s oceans, with the majority being based in Antarctica. This means you have a great chance of seeing Orcas if you travel to Antarctica. Recent research by the NOAA is pointing to there being four distinct looking forms of Killer Whales – known as Types A to D. All types can be found in Antarctica and each one favour different types of prey. If you travel with Expeditions Online to Antarctica during the summer season, there is a good chance of spotting Killer Whales in the wild – particularly in and around the Antarctic Peninsula and the Ross Sea. Seeing them in the wild with the Antarctic as a background is quite unforgettable. Find our more about our Antarctica Marine Mammals trip here.


2. Wandering Albatross

The Wandering Albatross has the longest wingspan of any bird on the planet and it is an impressive sight to see – particularly against an Antarctic backdrop. Their wingspan can measure 3.1-3.5m and as a result they can fly for great distances without using much energy thanks to the combination of their size and the Antarctic winds. They are usually found in the sub Antarctic regions – particularly on exposed ridges on Prince Edward Island and South Georgia. Once they find a mate, they stay with them for life. However, they are a species that is in decline because of the number of deaths from long line fishing hooks, and their slow breeding process has meant their numbers are not being replaced as fast.  Find out more about expeditions to their breeding grounds here.

1. The Blue Whale

It is the largest and loudest animal ever known to have existed.  Although not exclusive to Antarctica, its story is such that it had to be top of our top ten animals you can see in Antarctica list. On average they are around 30 metres long and 200 tonnes in weight. Their calls are louder than a jet engine and their heart is the size of a small car. The species narrowly escaped extinction in the 20th Century due to whaling practises, and although the numbers are recovering they are still under pressure and sightings are rare.  Before whaling there were over 200,000 blue whales in Antarctica and at its worst level in 1966 it was thought that their population in Antarctica dipped to only 400 but now there are around 2,000 in the Antarctic Ocean – similar numbers to those in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It is in the Antarctic that the Blue Whales gorge on krill in the rich waters before migrating to their feeding grounds in the warmer waters of the equator. And given its rarity, it is a beautiful sight if you are ever lucky enough to see it on your adventure in and around the Antarctic Ocean. Find out more about the tours where you may spot them feeding here.


Antarctic animals can be rare and they are always fascinating. The stunning Antarctic backdrop always enhances their beauty. A trip to Antarctica will always offer you the experience of seeing an animal you are unlikely to see anywhere else.  If you’d like to see some of these Antarctic animals in an environmentally sensitive way, accompanied by our experts and guides, please visit expeditionsonline.com for information on traveling to Antarctica. We specialise in cruises and expeditions on small ships and we’ve visited all of the destinations we offer. Get in touch to see if we can meet your travel needs – our advice is independent and expert. 



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