Antarctic expedition: marine animals

By Mike Rossi 7 November 2013
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It’s not just penguins that inhabit the Antarctic. There are many creatures that call those chilled waters home.

AG designer Mike Rossi set sail on the AG Society expedition to Antarctica and finds it full of life.

THOUGH HOSTILE TO HUMAN life, the chilled waters that fringe the Antarctic continent support the largest marine mammals on Earth – seals and whales.

Antarctica is home to four species of seal:- Weddell (Leptonychotes weddellii), leopard (Hydrurga leptonyx), crabeater (Lobodon carcinophagus) and Ross (Ommatophoca rossii), all of which rely on the ice in some capacity, for feeding, hunting, resting, mating and pupping. Of these four seal species, only the Weddell is known to spend winter on the Antarctic continent, the other three species following the edge of the fast ice as the sea freezes over.



At Cape Denison, we observe a number of Weddell seals lounging on the fast ice in front of Mawson’s hut. A juvenile leopard seal is spotted cruising the shallows in Boat Harbour, most likely in search of a meal of Adelie penguin.

Antarctic waters also support the largest mammals on the planet – whales. Humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae), southern rights (Eubalaena australis), minkes (Balaenoptera bonaerensis), fins (Balaenoptera physalus), orcas (Orcinus orca) and the largest of them all, the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), all migrate south in summer to feed in the krill-rich Antarctic waters.

Krill, tiny crustaceans, form the basis of the entire Antarctic food chain, and directly or indirectly support all vertebrate life in the Antarctic. We have spotted a pod of orcas, a pod of humpbacks and even a couple of blue whales from a distance, but on a zodiac cruise amongst the ice to the east of Commonwealth Bay, our stationary ship is befriended by a juvenile fin whale, about 10 metres long.

It is difficult to say who is the more curious – the whale or the 50 people out on zodiacs and on deck who watch the spectacle in wonder. The whale sticks around for close to an hour, swimming between the zodiacs and sidling right up beside them to get a closer look at us. The encounter easily rates as one of the highlights of the trip.

See more AG Antarctica expedition blogs.