Welcome to Antarctica
The wildest travel destination!
A vast, ice-covered continent, surrounded by stormy, icy seas - Antarctica is indeed a challenging place to reach! Many people’s first reaction to the idea of actually visiting Antarctica is incredulous - why, isn’t it all just freezing ice and snow?!? Maybe that is an accurate description of the icy interior, however parts of Antarctica’s coastline boast a myriad of wildlife, spectacular scenery and at least in the summer, a relatively mild climate. Antarctica is in many eyes is the most wonderful and fascinating travel destination of all!
Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest and highest continent on earth. Uninhabitable to land animals it is paradoxically home to abundant wildlife during the summer season. The seas surrounding Antarctica are nutrient rich and support a huge biodiversity. Krill is the keystone species of the ecosystem and the source of food for whales, seals, squid, icefish, penguins, albatrosses and many other birds. Birdlife, including penguins as well as many seals use the Antarctic coast to haul out and breed during the summer, making them particularly visible to visitors. Although 98% covered with ice, there are many mountainous and spectacularly beautiful regions of Antarctica, particularly the coasts of the Antarctic Peninsula and Ross Sea.
Penguins in Antarctica
These lovable, flightless mascots of the South, include 17 species (or 18, depending on who you talk to!) of which 7 are found in the Antarctic itself or the islands beneath the Antarctic Convergence. The rest of the penguin species are to be found in Sub-Antarctic Islands in the Southern Ocean, or cool water areas further North along the coasts of South America, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. On the Antarctic Peninsula, the chinstrap, Adélie, and gentoo gather in enormous colonies during the summer breeding season. The largest species is the Emperor penguin: with a height up to about 1.1 m tall and weight of 35 kg or more. The smallest is the Little penguin (sometimes known as the Blue or Fairy penguin), which stands only around 40 cm tall and weighs about 1 kg.
Marine Mammals of Antarctica
At least ten species of whales have been spotted in the Antarctic Ocean. These whales include humpback (the most common), minke, right, blue, sei, finback, orca, pilot, sperm, and southern bottle-nosed. The blue whale, the largest animal on Earth, exceeds 30 metres in length and weighs over 150 tons. Just as exciting to watch are the three species of dolphins—Commerson’s, dusky, and southern right-whale—that swim and dive in graceful arcs throughout the southern seas.
Six seal species thrive in the Antarctic Ocean. Watch crabeater and Weddell seals slide off ice platforms in search of crabs and fish. Catch a glimpse of the large leopard seals which feed on fish, penguins, and other seals. Sharp teeth line their powerful jaws. Ross seals, more difficult to spot and less well known, eat fish, as do the smallest seals in the region, the fur seals. Seal hunters once coveted fur seals for their thick, high-quality coats. The huge elephant seals feed on squid around the Scotia Arc Islands and the Antarctica Peninsula. Males weigh nearly 4.5 tons and grow to lengths of up to 6 metres long.
Seabirds of Antarctica
Forty-four species of seabirds, including albatrosses, circle the sky around the Antarctic and subantarctic. Fulmars, medium-to-large-sized petrels, scavenge dead birds and seals along the coast. Other petrels feed only at sea. Long, hook-tipped bills provide shearwater petrels with the means to pull squid from the water. Some species also pursue their prey beneath the water’s surface. Sheathbills, skuas, Arctic terns, cape pigeons, and petrels all live near the coasts and over the seas of Antarctica.
Guidance for Visitors to the Antarctic
Activities in the Antarctic are governed by the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 and associated agreements, referred to collectively as the Antarctic Treaty System. The Treaty established Antarctica as a zone of peace and science.
In 1991, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties adopted the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, which designates the Antarctic as a natural reserve. The Protocol sets out environmental principles, procedures and obligations for the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment, and its dependent and associated ecosystems. The Consultative Parties have agreed that, pending its entry into force, as far as possible and in accordance with their legal system, the provisions of the Protocol should be applied as appropriate.
The Environmental Protocol applies to tourism and non-governmental activities, as well as governmental activities in the Antarctic Treaty Area. It is intended to ensure that these activities, do not have adverse impacts on the Antarctic environment, or on its scientific and aesthetic values.
This Guidance for Visitors to the Antarctic is intended to ensure that all visitors are aware of, and are therefore able to comply with, the Treaty and the Protocol. Visitors are, of course, bound by national laws and regulations applicable to activities in the Antarctic.
Protect Antarctic Wildlife
Taking or harmful interference with Antarctic wildlife is prohibited except in accordance with a permit issued by a national authority.
- Do not use aircraft, vessels, small boats, or other means of transport in ways that disturb wildlife, either at sea or on land.
- Do not feed, touch, or handle birds or seals, or approach or photograph them in ways that cause them to alter their behavior. Special care is needed when animals are breeding or molting.
- Do not damage plants, for example by walking, driving, or landing on extensive moss beds or lichen-covered scree slopes.
- Do not use guns or explosives. Keep noise to the minimum to avoid frightening wildlife.
- Do not bring non-native plants or animals into the Antarctic such as live poultry, pet dogs and cats or house plants.
Respect Protected Areas
- A variety of areas in the Antarctic have been afforded special protection because of their particular ecological, scientific, historic or other values. Entry into certain areas may be prohibited except in accordance with a permit issued by an appropriate national authority. Activities in and near designated Historic Sites and Monuments and certain other areas may be subject to special restrictions.
- Know the locations of areas that have been afforded special protection and any restrictions regarding entry and activities that can be carried out in and near them.
- Observe applicable restrictions.
- Do not damage, remove, or destroy Historic Sites or Monuments or any artifacts associated with them.
Respect Scientific Research
- Do not interfere with scientific research, facilities or equipment.
- Obtain permission before visiting Antarctic science and support facilities; reconfirm arrangements 24-72 hours before arrival; and comply with the rules regarding such visits.
- Do not interfere with, or remove, scientific equipment or marker posts, and do not disturb experimental study sites, field camps or supplies.
- Be prepared for severe and changeable weather and ensure that your equipment and clothing meet Antarctic standards. Remember that the Antarctic environment is inhospitable, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous.
- Know your capabilities, the dangers posed by the Antarctic environment, and act accordingly.
- Plan activities with safety in mind at all times.
- Keep a safe distance from all wildlife, both on land and at sea.
- Take note of, and act on, the advice and instructions from your leaders; do not stray from your group.
- Do not walk onto glaciers or large snow fields without the proper equipment and experience; there is a real danger of falling into hidden crevasses.
- Do not expect a rescue service. Self-sufficiency is increased and risks reduced by sound planning, quality equipment, and trained personnel.
- Do not enter emergency refuges (except in emergencies). If you use equipment or food from a refuge, inform the nearest research station or national authority once the emergency is over.
- Respect any smoking restrictions, particularly around buildings, and take great care to safeguard against the danger of fire. This is a real hazard in the dry environment of Antarctica.
Keep Antarctica Pristine
- Antarctica remains relatively pristine, the largest wilderness area on Earth. It has not yet been subjected to large scale human perturbations. Please keep it that way.
- Do not dispose of litter or garbage on land. Open burning is prohibited.
- Do not disturb or pollute lakes or streams. Any materials discarded at sea must be disposed of properly.
- Do not paint or engrave names or graffiti on rocks or buildings.
- Do not collect or take away biological or geological specimens or man-made artifacts as a souvenir, including rocks, bones, eggs, fossils, and parts or contents of buildings.
- Do not deface or vandalize buildings, whether occupied, abandoned, or unoccupied, or emergency refuges.
Key Antarctica Regions
The most northerly and accessible region of Antarctica projects towards the tip of South America. The towering spires of the Peninsula and South Shetland Islands will take your breath away, as will the myriad icebergs, astonishing light, ice-choked waterways, noisy penguin colonies, graceful seabirds, or the sight of whales breaching through pristine waters.
South Georgia Island
One of the world’s greatest wildlife sanctuaries, South Georgia is rightly placed on the ‘must list’ of many expedition travellers. Accessed from South America or the Falklands, this spectacular and remote outpost is home to millions of penguins, seals and seabirds. Voyages are often part of a longer expedition including Antarctica – alternatively special journeys just featuring this amazing destination. With wild mountain and glacier scenery, unique and abundant colonies of wildlife and fascinating historic remains, South Georgia is an inspirational and never-to-be-forgotten place!
The Weddell Sea resonates with the ill-fated yet heroic expedition of the great British polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. His ship, the Endurance was trapped in the ice here in 1915 and the story of the men's survival is one of the greatest in polar exploration. Tabular icebergs stream out of Antarctic Sound, the entrance to the Weddell Sea, where pack ice stretches to the horizon. Upwellings of cold, nutrient-rich water attract diverse wildlife and some islands host penguin colonies 200,000 strong. Noted highlights also include fossil-rich Seymour Island and Nordenskjold’s historic hut on Snow Hill Island.
Ross Sea & East Antarctica
East Antarctica is much more seldom-visited that the Antarctic Peninsula due to the much greater sea time required to reach there. Greater concentrations of sea ice make it inaccessible to all other than icebreakers or highly ice-strengthened vessels. The spectacular Ross Sea region is the southern-most coastline in the world and is the most fascinating area from a historical perspective. Excellently preserved huts from heroic explorers such as Shackleton and Scott are some of the greatest highlights of a visit. Huge mountains dominate the coastline and large breeding colonies of Adelie and Emperor penguins make for incredible wildlife viewing opportunities. Along the way south and north you will also have the chance to visit the sub-Antarctic island paradises of Macquarie, Campbell and the Auckland Islands.