Wildlife

There is a lot of wildlife in Antarctica, although limited types as compared to other continents. 88% of the species in the Southern Ocean are found nowhere else in the world. The main types of wildlife are explained here.

British Antarctic Survey- Antarctic Wildlife

Your Kid’s Planet-Antarctic Animals

Your Kid’s Planet- Interesting Facts About Antarctica

Whales There are two sub-orders of whales, which both exist in Antarctica. They are the toothed whales, and the baleen whales. In all, there are eleven species of whales in the Southern Ocean. The six baleen include: the blue, fin, humpback, minke, sea, and the southern right whales. The five toothed whales include: the Arnoux’s beaked, orca, southern bottle nose, sperm, and the strap-toothed whales.

The blue whale is the largest animal alive today, growing between 85 to 150 tons (77-136 metric tons). They can live up to 80 years. They mainly feed on krill. Toothed whales mainly eat fish and squid.

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Seals Out of 35 species of seals worldwide, only six live in Antarctica. They are: Antarctic fur seals, crabeater seals, leopard seals, Ross seals, Weddell seals, and southern elephant seals. The Antarctic fur seal and the southern elephant seal are also found in the sub-Antarctic islands and the southern South America areas. The Antarctic fur seal is the only eared seal in this group. All of these seals are uniquely adapted to live in the frigid waters of Antarctica. They have thick layers of blubber or dense fur to keep them warm and they all have flippers for swimming.

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Penguins There are 17 species of penguins in the world and only 7 live in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands. The 4 that live in on the continent are: Adélie, Chinstraps, Emperor, and Gentoo. The 3 that live in the sub-Antarctic islands are: King, Macaroni, and Rockhopper.

All of these penguins are flightless, and they are excellent swimmers. The spend most of their lives in the sea. On land, they are able to stand upright and they waddle and jump on their webbed feet. They can swim for many hours and can swim at speeds of around 8 mph (13 km/h). In shore bursts, they can reach greater speeds.

Penguins are covered in short, thick feathers that are so tight that they are waterproof. They have a soft, insulating down underneath, and under this, they have a layer of fat to stay warm. They also have an oil gland to spread oil on themselves for waterproofing.

Their main food is krill, and they also eat fish and squid. They have developed excellent underwater vision and they are able to see light that helps them find their food. On land, the penguin is nearsighted, and cannot see objects clearly in the distance. Like other birds that live at sea, penguins have a special salt gland that extracts excess salt form their blood, as they swallow a lot of salty sea water.

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Birds There are many flying seabirds living in Antarctica. There are approximately 45 species of birds that include: penguins, shearwaters, petrels, albatrosses, storm-petrels, diving petrels, cormorants, ducks, geese, swans, sheathbills, skuas, gulls, and terns.

The wandering albatross is the largest of all seabirds in the Southern Ocean. It has the biggest wingspan of any bird in the world, which can reach up to 11 feet (3 m). It only spends time on land to breed. The albatross can even fly while sleeping!

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Fish There are up to 200 different species of fish in the Southern Ocean. Most of these fish are uniquely adapted to life in the freezing cold, and are found nowhere else on earth!

These include the Antarctic cod, which is the largest fish in Antarctica. It is found in deep waters and is about 5 feet (1.5 m) in length and weighs over 55 lbs (25 kg). Some of these fish reach an incredible weight of 330 lbs (150 kg)! The Antarctic cod has special proteins in its body which keep it from freezing in the winter. They are also able to go into a dormant state, which is a way to save energy. This is a bit like hibernation!

The Blacken Icefish is very unusual. It lives in deep waters just off the Antarctic Peninsula. It does not have red blood cells, and therefore its blood is colorless. It has a special protein in its blood, like the Antarctic Cod, that keep it from freezing.

While krill are not fish, they are small pink crustaceans. They have a hard shell and legs with joints. Their body is divided into segments. They look like tiny shrimp and are the staple of many animals living in the Antarctic region. They live on the ice algae that grows in the frozen sea ice. The Antarctic krill are one of the largest species of krill. They stay in deep water during the day, and there the darkness protects them. At night, they come up to the ocean surface to feed on phytoplankton, which are single cell plants that foot in the sea. Krill can go long periods of time without eating, up to 200 days! They are the food source for many animals in Antarctica, including fish, birds, penguins, seals, and baleen whales.

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Extreme Insect

The only insect that can live year round in Antarctica is the Chironomid Midge, Belgica antarctica. This insect is active only in the Antarctic summer when temperatures are at their warmest, which can go up to 4c. There is not much food for this insect, and it develops slowly, which can take up to two years from midge larvae to adult. This is the largest permanent land animal to be found in Antarctica!

This midge can survive due to the way its cells are able to dehydrate. This enables the cells to be protected when the temperatures go down to -15c in the colder winters. With the cells dehydrated, the tissues of this animal do not freeze, which would cause damage. The midge is not active during the winter. Once the temperatures rise in the Antarctic summer, the midge is able to absorb water again from the environment and becomes active. Then, it will feed itself. 

As is true of most midges, the life span of the adult is very short. Once they mate, they will die. The adult midge is wingless, as it would do them no purpose to have wings, for there would be nowhere for them to fly to that would be better suited. 

My favorite video from my 2013 trip. A mom losing patience with her hungry child!

 

 

 

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