Earth’s coldest, driest and windiest continent may not be very hospitable to human life, but the wonders of adaptation mean Antarctica’s waters and lands are home to 235 animal species. The creatures that thrive in this seemingly barren environment capture our imagination as  living proof of the remarkable resilience and adaptivity of life on earth. They are also incredibly photogenic, so best get your camera ready. 

Map of whales penguins and seals found in the Antarctic

Animals that live in Antarctica 

  • Adelie Penguin
  • Albatross
  • Antarctic Orca
  • Blue Whale
  • Chinstrap Pengiun 
  • Commersons Dolphin
  • Fur Seal
  • Gentoo Pengiun
  • Humpback Whale
  • King Pengiun
  • Leopard Seal
  • Minke Whale

These are only a handful of the wildlife in Antartica.


Emperor penguin colony protects their young in Antarctica

Emperor penguin

The big daddy of the penguin world, emperor penguins can grow up to 1.2 metres tall (4 ft) and weigh up to 45 kilograms (100 lbs). They are only found deep in the coldest parts of Antarctica and huddle together in large groups to stay warm.
Find them: Northern Antarctic Peninsula, breeding during winter.

Group of Adelie penguins in the Antarctic

Adelie penguin

Easily recognised by the white ring around their eyes, the Adelies also have stiff wings that can propel them to depths of 100 metres (330 ft) underwater. Aside from emperor penguins, Adelie penguins are the only true Antarctic penguins, meaning they live there all year long.
Find them: Antarctic Peninsula, breeding from October to February, chicks present from late December to February.

King penguins in Antarctica

King penguin

The second-largest penguins in the world (after the emperor), king penguins are an attractive lot, with a fiery golden plumage around their heads, and dark grey bodies. Male king penguins incubate the eggs on their feet while covering them with a special pouch to keep them warm. 
Find them: South Georgia Island and Falkland Islands, chicks are present all year.

A pair of chinstrap penguins on Antarctic ice

Chinstrap penguin

These creatures are easily identified by their thin ‘beard’ of black feathers and live in colonies of hundreds of thousands. Chinstrap penguins’ mating habits are quite dramatic. Males fight for the best nest position and then reserve it for five days – if the female doesn’t arrive in time, he may look for another mate. 
Find them: Antarctic Peninsula, breeding October to November with chicks present from late December to early February.

Gentoo penguin group, Antarctica

Gentoo penguin

These active critters spend a large part of their time hunting and eating. Known for their speed in the water, the gentoo penguin hunts for krill, smaller fish and squid. With an orange beak that looks a little like a smear of lipstick and a ‘bonnet’ of white feathers, they are also undeniably adorable.
Find them: Antarctic Peninsula and Falkland Islands, breeding from October to February with chicks present from late December to January.  

Macaroni penguins gather on rocks in Antarctica

Macaroni penguin

Short, rotund and sporting a pair of yellow eyebrows that put even the most avant garde makeup artists to shame, the macaroni are as handsome as they are aggressive – males frequently fight other penguins within their colony.
Find them: South Georgia plus one colony on the Antarctic Peninsula, breeding season changes annually.


Leopard seal

The only seals that kill other mammals for food, the solitary and adventurous leopard seal will migrate far and wide in search of a feast. They have long bodies covered in spots (hence the name) and incredibly sharp teeth. As they aren’t fond of company, spotting them is a rare treat.
Find them: Southern Antarctic Peninsula.

Crabeater seal swims underwater in Antarctica

Crabeater seal

Crabeaters are the most commonly found seal in the world, with an estimated population of up to 15 million. The male and females are both roughly the same size and have pale, cream coloured fur and a pointy face. You won't care that they're common when you see them – trust us. 
Find them: anywhere with pack ice.

Antarctic fur seal

Male Antarctic fur seals can weigh up to 180 kilograms (400 pounds), which is much larger than their female counterparts. They are silvery grey on their backs, with brown stomachs and a hairy mane on their neck and shoulders, which is how they get their name (and all the attention).
Find them: South Georgia Island, South Orkney Islands and South Shetland Islands.

Southern elephant seal rests on the shore of South Georgia Island

Southern elephant seal

The largest species of seal in the world, the males can weigh up to 3600 kilograms (four tons) and sport a prominent schnoz that they use to roar and attract mates. Come breeding season, the males fight and fast for their right to secure a piece of territory on the beach – as well as a bevy of beautiful lady seals at their disposal.
Find them: South Georgia Island. Males take to the beach from November to secure breeding space.

Weddell seal pup in the Antarctic

Weddell seal

Males and females are about the same size and are dark grey on their backs and light grey underneath. They are characterised by a small face with huge eyes, and light streaky patterns across their whole bodies. Weddell seals breed further south than any other mammal in Antarctica.
Find them: Southern Antarctic Peninsula, breeding from September to December. 

Ross seal rests on the ice in the Antarctic

Ross seal

The rarest of the Antarctic seals, the Ross are solitary hunters who stick mainly to thick pack ice. As it’s the breakdown of pack ice during the warmer months that allows humans to access the Antarctic’s waters, catching sight of these little creatures is highly unlikely.  


Blue whale swims in the Antarctic peninsula

Blue whale

The largest animal to have ever lived on planet earth. Just let that sink in for a minute. Ok, ready for more? The biggest blue whale on record weighed nearly 200 tonnes – to put that in perspective, an adult male African elephant weighs 6 tonnes. Blue-grey in colour, these beauties are rarely spotted, but if seen are impossible to forget.
Find them: South Georgia Island and Antarctic Peninsula, most active February to March. 

Orca pod in the Antarctic

Antarctic orca

The ‘killer whale’ is technically part of the dolphin family. With their iconic glossy black back and striking white bellies, there is little chance of missing this mammal if they are close by. Males grow up to nine-and-a-half metres (31 ft) in length, while females clock in at seven metres (23 ft).
Find them: All over Antarctica, most active February to March. 

Humpback whale breaches the surface in the Antarctic peninsula

Humpback whale

The humpback’s white neck, huge size (up to 40 tonnes), hump and frequent breaches make them one of the easiest whales to spot if they’re nearby. Look out for the great spout of water called a ‘blow’ they expel from their double blowholes – these sprays can reach up to three metres.
Find them: South Georgia Island and Antarctic Peninsula, most active February to March.


Minke whale skims the waters surface in the Antarctic Peninsula

Minke whale

One of the smallest whales, a minke whale maxes out at around 10 tonnes. These slender and acrobatic creatures like to breach and dive under ships, although they are fast swimmers, so you need to be on the ball to spot them.
Find them: South Georgia Island and Antarctic Peninsula, most active February to March.

Southern right whales swim in the Antarctic Peninsula

Southern right whale

One of the slowest moving whales, the southern right whale can weigh up to 80 tonnes and is the only large whale without a dorsal fin. Black and mottled brown in colour with some white around the eyes, these beauties can be quite the show-offs and are prone to breaching, headstands and curious nature.  
Find them: Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands, most active January to March. 

Fin whale swims in the Antarctic Peninsula

Fin whale

While female fin whales can weigh up to 130 tonnes, don’t let their size fool you – these remarkably nimble whales are known as the greyhounds of the sea. During the 20th century they were almost hunted to extinction, so spotting them today is a rare and humbling experience.   
Find them: Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands, most active January to March. 

Flying seabirds

Wandering albatross, Antarctic

Wandering albatross

One of the world’s largest seabirds, the albatross spends most of its time up in the air and can be easily spotted thanks to its long wings. They love to glide behind big ships, so when you’re standing out on deck, look up at the skies and you may spot these graceful birds.
Find them: All over the continent, but most common in the skies around South Georgia. 

Antarctic petrel

Petrels spend all their time out at sea, so are very resilient even in the harshest of Antarctica’s weather. The only time they will come inland is to nest. Look out for colonies resting on icebergs in November, December and January – their brown colouring stands out against the white ice.
Find them: All over the continent. 

Blue eyed cormorant rests in the Antarctic

Blue-eyed cormorants

With its long neck and dazzling peepers, the blue-eyed cormorant cuts a pretty figure. They fly in flocks and hang out around South Georgia Island, the South Shetland Islands and the top of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Find them: All over the continent. 

Kelp gull spreads its wings

Kelp gull

Ah, gulls. One of the hardiest and most misunderstood of all the seabirds. These opportunistic creatures will feed whenever and wherever they can – including on the skin and blubber of live southern right whales. Rock and roll.
Find them: All over the continent. 

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