One of the last true wildernesses left on the face of the Earth, Antarctica is truly a destination like no other. Unique wildlife, vast tundras and some of the most spectacular sights you’ll ever see – you are sure not to be disappointed! Today we’ll be having a look at what will be one of the standout features of your Antarctic cruise – the native wildlife.
Famed for its harsh conditions, sprawling tundra and inhospitable landscape, the Antarctic is the home of a wide range of species, each of which is as interesting as the next. Remembering that polar bears only exist at the North Pole, the Antarctic’s most well-known resident is probably the Emperor Penguin. This beautiful animal resides exclusively in the Antarctic and has some very specialist adaptions – such as the ability to hold its breath for up to 18 minutes and the ability not only to slow its metabolism down to a minimal rate, but also to temporarily shut off non-essential organs in order to maximise the amount of oxygen used in its blood. The Emperor Penguin (as part of the larger species) is the only animal to breed on land in the Antarctic, and is unusual in that it breeds during the Antarctic winter. The Penguins themselves face a harsh few months alternating between caring for a newly-laid egg and feeding at sea. After the female lays the egg, the male must balance it on his feet until the female returns from feeding. This process repeats until the chick is old enough to feed independently. With air temperatures regularly reaching -35 degrees and with wind speeds up to 90mph, it is perhaps unsurprising that only 19% of Emperor penguins survive their first year of life. It is especially rewarding, therefore, to be able to see a colony of these magnificent creatures on your Antarctic Cruise.
Another animal regularly seen in the Antarctic is the Weddell Seal. These animals grow to be about 2m long and can weigh up to 600kgs! These animals have been frequently studied due to their dense Antarctic population and relative ambivalence towards humans. Excellent sea hunters, the seals are naturally negatively buoyant and so sink towards the sea floor after dropping through holes in the ice. Once in the water they hunt for fish and other sea life such as jellyfish and krill.
Another giant that you might spot is the Wandering Albatross, which has the largest wingspan of any living species – it can reach up to three and a half metres! Although unverified, some reports have indicated individual members of this species have reached a wingspan of over five metres! The size of its wings means it can glide for an exceptionally long time – it can travel 22m laterally for every one metre it drops vertically. This is why it is known as the ‘wandering’ Albatross, as it spends the majority of its life in flight. It does land, however, to sleep (where it floats on the sea) and also to create a nest for its young, which it checks periodically between expeditions to hunt for food.
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