Antarctic Wildlife: Birds, Seals and Whales

Leopard seals, which got their name from their spots, are solitary hunters that can be highly aggressive. One of Ernest Shackleton’s men was chased on the ice by a leopard seal! In addition to leopard seals, there are also crabeater, Weddell and Ross seals. The dominant species, however, is the crabeater, which doesn’t eat crabs at all, but instead feeds on krill, fish and squid.

The last time I was in the Antarctic, our ship got stuck in pack ice for many hours. During that period the crabeaters came up and nuzzled the ship with their noses. Why? I don’t know! But when they wanted a rest, they hauled up on the ice beside us and went to sleep. At one point we counted just over a hundred on the ice beside us. And then there was a magical moment when we opened the doors of our moonpool, a shaft that goes right through the hull of our vessel to allow scientists to take water and plankton samples, and the crabeaters swam right up into the centre of our vessel!

We can't forget to mention the whales! When I was a boy, we did not see many whales in Antarctic waters because they had been hunted to the brink of extinction for their oil. Now, there is relatively little whaling in the world and the whales are making a comeback. These days you see lots of fin, sei, minke and southern right whales everywhere, as well as my favorite, the humpback whale! Humpback whales are easy to spot because of their hump, knobbly head and long pectoral fins. In particular, I love their bubble-net feeding method and the way they can throw their bodies out of the water when they breach. Check out this video of humpback whales bubble net fishing in Alaska!

During my last voyage to Antarctica, I even saw a blue whale.