Life in Antarctica

Royal Albatross

Many species of Antarctic wildlife are unique to the southern region. Each of the major species shares a variety of adaptations that enables them to survive in the harsh environment. They all take their food from the sea that surrounds the continent; indeed, most live at the shore, although some breed on land.

Crabeater Seal

The flightless birds - Penguins are able to withstand the extreme cold because of insulation provided by their short, densely-packed feathers forms a waterproof coat. A thick layer of fat or blubber also serves as an energy store. These adaptations, among others, enable them to minimize heat loss in icy cold waters so they can cope with the harsh Antarctic conditions.

Emperor Penguins

Most of the seal pups can swim on the first day of their birth. Among the 35 varieties of the seals, 6 types live in Antarctica. They are Leopard seals, Crabeater seals, Ross seals, Weddell seals, Southern elephant seals & Antarctic fur seals.

Ross Seal

Along with seals & penguins, whales also share the Antarctic waters. They belong to the family Cetacea, which includes about 75 species of huge whales, smaller dolphins & porpoises. The blue, fin, sei, humpback & minke whales migrate regularly in summers feeding on krill & small fish. These are the most dangerous of all the Antarctic animals.


At the center of the Antarctic marine ecosystem is the krill. These are underwater shrimp like creatures up to 8 cm in length. They live on phytoplanktons, which grow in the warm sunlight in summer. Obviously these are the days when krill are found in unimaginable numbers. And why not? Imagine the female laying 2000 to 3000 eggs twice a year, which grow into adults in 2 or 3 years. One also may be surprised to notice that nearly 250 million tonnes of krill are consumed every year.

Antarctica also has a distinct variety of birds, which are distinguished by a thick layer of insulating fat under their skins & extensive fat deposits throughout their bodies. Their feathers provide excellent protection from the cold. There are 43 species of birds that breed within the limits of Antarctic convergence. The giant Albatrosses, the colorful shags, ferocious skuas & the small, white, pigeon like sheathbills are some of them.

A variety of fresh water & saline lakes in Antarctica contain a limited range of aquatic life. The only vegetation observed here is mosses & lichens. They inhabit an exposed ground where moisture is available. Mosses grow rarely more than 100 mm deep even in most favorable conditions. Lichens are best adapted to survive at lower temperatures, & with less light & water. More than 300 species of non-marine algae are found under stones. They may form spectacular red, yellow or green patches on the areas of permanent snow.

A few species of mites, insects & invertebrates are also found at Antarctica.

One must appreciate that even after the advent of man on this continent, the life here has remained as unspoilt & innocent as it was. And the credit for this mainly goes to the Antarctic treaty, which has played & is playing a pivotal role in the explorations of this continent.