Antarctica is the seventh continent at the southernmost part of the world. It mainly consists of mountains, pack ice, and surrounding seas. While some people believe polar bears live in Antarctica, this isn’t true. However, there are plenty of other species that do call this region home. Animals that live in Antarctica have evolved and adapted to develop different physical features and behaviors to survive the icy water and weather of their habitat.
This article will talk about 15 animals you can find in Antarctic habitats, including describing how they manage to survive the cold conditions. Read on to learn more!
15 animals that live in Antarctica
Here is a list of 15 animals living in Antarctica, including popular favorites and some not-so-well-known species.
1. King penguin
Scientific name: Aptenodytes patagonicus
King penguins are one of the most popular species in zoos and are commonly represented in cartoons. You can recognize them from the golden feathers around their necks and heads contrasting against their black and white bodies.
Penguins can regulate their temperature by puffing up their feathers. This traps air to provided insulation. When it gets too hot, they can fan out their feathers, so the warm air escapes.
2. Emperor penguin
Scientific name: Aptenodytes forsteri
The largest penguin species is the emperor penguin, growing between 3.6 to 4.3 feet tall. These penguins often huddle together in groups to stay warm.
They have unique breeding habits where females will let the male incubate the egg while looking for food. Males can fast for over 100 days waiting for the female to return. Emperor penguins can dive the deepest of any bird, up to 1,850 feet, when searching for food.
3. Chinstrap penguin
Scientific name: Pygoscelis antarcticus
The chinstrap penguins get their name from the line of black feathers around their chin, looking like a strap. These feathers are densely packed and waterproof, helping to protect them from the cold.
They are the smallest penguin species, standing around 25 inches tall. Males will collect pebbles to create nests to attract mates and get quite aggressive defending their pebbles. They can be rather entertaining with their mini battles over pebbles.
4. Antarctic krill
Scientific name: Euphausia superba
Antarctic krill are an abundant marine species in the waters around the South Pole. They are an important food source for other animals and a crucial part of food webs.
These tiny crustaceans are generally transparent with some red and orange colors. They also have large black eyes. During the winter months, where food is scarce, they can shrink their body and use their own proteins as fuel. This lets them survive over 200 days without food.
5. Blue whale
Scientific name: Balaenoptera musculus
One of the largest animals on earth, the blue whale grows to an impressive 87 feet and weighs up to 330,000 pounds. They are also loud animals with calls louder than jet engines.
They use the thickness of their body and blood flow to help control their body temperature and stay warm in the icy waters. Blue whales migrate to the Antarctic waters during the summer to feed on krill before moving on to the warmer waters of the equator.
6. Killer whale
Scientific name: Orcinus orca
The killer whale, or orca, gets their name from their aggressive behaviors as apex predators. However, these animals are not whales and in fact large dolphins. They are also very playful and intelligent animals.
Although found in waters worldwide, killer whales are well adapted to cold Antarctic waters. They stay warm by traveling in pods or groups and swim up to 30 miles per hour. These animals also have a layer of blubber that allows them to maintain body heat, even when diving over 325 feet.
7. Hourglass dolphin
Scientific name: Sagmatias cruciger
Hourglass dolphins are rather beautiful compared to other dolphin species since they have black tops, white bellies, and white patches and lines on the side. Adult males can grow around 5.9 feet and weigh 200 pounds.
As one of the few dolphin species in the Antarctic waters, they have thicker layers of blubber than other dolphins. The blubber helps them stay warm and steady their body temperature against the cold.
8. Wandering albatross
Scientific name: Diomedea exulans
The wandering albatross is a popular bird among sailor beliefs, where legend has it they represent the souls of dead sailors and symbolize a safe and successful voyage. These birds are large and white with some black coloring on their wings that span 11 feet, among the longest wingspans of all birds.
They have unique nostrils on their beaks that smell prey miles away and these nostrils close up when diving or swimming to prevent water from entering. These birds also can drink seawater and remove any excess salt from their bodies through tubes along their beaks.
9. Snow petrel
Scientific name: Pagodroma nivea
Snow petrels are 11 to 16-inch, pure white birds that shelter from predators and cold Antarctic winds by nesting in crevices. Their webbed feet also help them swim and walk on ice without slipping.
These birds generally stay near the water’s surface but have oily, waterproof feathers so they can dive into the water and fly when wet. Their diet consists of fish, squid, krill, seal placenta, and animal carcasses.
10. Blue-eyed shag
Scientific name: Phalacrocorax atriceps
Also called the imperial shag, the blue-eyed shag is a species of cormorant bird that are rather funny-looking. They have large orange or yellow growth at the end of their beak, which gets bigger during the mating season. These birds also don’t have blue eyes but have vivid blue skin surrounding the eye.
Their main diet is fish and they will commonly form a “raft” of dozens or hundreds of birds to panic fish as they take turns diving to feed. They also create nests year-round on islands and prefer hanging out where the sea is ice-free.
11. Leopard seal
Scientific name: Hydrurga leptonyx
Leopard seals grow around 8.45 to 11.7 feet, with some reaching 12.4 feet. These animals have thick blubber to generate body heat. They also have muscular, streamlined bodies allowing them to swim up to 24 miles per hour when hunting.
Leopard seals will dive up to 250 feet to catch fish, krill, penguins, and sometimes other seals. They have eyes to see better underwater and whiskers for sensing movement. Their nostrils can also close when diving to keep water out.
12. Southern elephant seal
Scientific name: Mirounga leonina
Southern elephant seals are the largest seals worldwide, growing around 13 feet and 4,500 pounds. These seals spend around 90 percent of their lives hunting for prey underwater, including squid, sharks, and fish.
They can dive up to 8,000 feet and have the ability to slow their heart rates to manage oxygen levels during dives. They can also hold their breath for up to 20 minutes!
13. Colossal squid
Scientific name: Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni
The colossal squid, also known as the giant cranch squid or Antarctic squid, can grow up to 46 feet long, including their body and tentacles, and weigh 1,100 pounds. They prefer hanging out in the deep sea waters where they use their tentacles that are specialized for grabbing prey to feed.
Squids have a unique ability to suspend their activity and slow down their metabolic rate. It reduces their oxygen level requirements and helps prevent damage from cold temperatures. They can also shoot ink to cloud the water for their escape from predators and change their color.
14. Antarctic silverfish
Scientific name: Pleuragramma antarcticum
The Antarctic silverfish is an icefish species that are truly pelagic in the Antarctica waters, meaning they live in the upper layers of the open sea. However, this also means they are often preyed on by birds, seals, penguins, and other predators. These fish get their name from their silver coloring after death. However, they are typically pink with a silverish tint when alive.
To adapt to the cold waters of Antarctica, they have the ability to produce antifreeze glycopeptides. This is a protein that helps them survive in below-freezing water. They usually grow between 5.9 to 9.8 inches long and can live up to 20 years.
15. Antarctic spiny plunderfish
Scientific name: Harpagifer antarcticus
Another fish found in the cold southern oceans surrounding Antarctica is the spiny plunderfish. They are a type of ray-finned fish, with a short body, broad head, and no scales. They are also small growing an average of 2.8 to 3.7 inches.
These fish are known to protect their young by building nests and guarding them. Besides antifreeze proteins, the spiny plunderfish have thinner blood that runs through their body easier and helps them regulate body temperature.