Antarctic Wildlife: Birds, Seals and Whales

Almost 30 meters (100 feet long) and weighing almost 200 tons, these are the biggest animals on earth! When we talk about whales, everybody wants to know about killer whales, or orcas, which are actually not whales at all, but are from the dolphin family. Killer whales are the apex predators of the Antarctic, meaning nothing ever attacks them. They are highly social animals that live together in family groups called pods. They will eat fish, but they prefer to hunt marine mammals such as seals. It is very common to see seals with nasty-looking scars from where they have escaped a killer whale.

To my mind, the most fearsome creature of the open Antarctic seas is not a seal or a whale, but rather the giant squid that can grow up to 13 meters (42 feet) in length! I have dived some of the islands around Antarctica, and although I never saw a giant squid, it was the one creature I did NOT want to meet. 

Some years ago, a cousin of mine who has a fishing fleet caught a giant squid between the Falklands and Antarctica. The Natural History Museum in London got very excited and wanted it for their collection, so my cousin had it frozen and shipped to London where it went on display. It caused a sensation and, for a while, the number of visitors to the museum almost doubled. Click here to see a video of the giant squid!

With the exception of orcas, all the whales around Antarctica are filter feeders. That is to say they strain their food from the water. And their food is not, as you might think, fish; but rather small marine animals we call plankton.