Antarctica

Most Antarctic life clings to the edge, where beaches and cliffs offer snow-free nesting places for birds and pupping places for seals. 

Read The author’s take

One of the world’s last great wildernesses, Antarctica is a region of superlatives: the coldest, windiest, driest place on earth. But a great concentration of wildlife thrives in this challenging environment, and those who brave the extreme conditions are rewarded with an unforgettable experience.

Albatrosses and whales rule the seas, penguins throng the beaches in their thousands, and seals bask in raucous company. All this plays out against an icy backdrop of awe-inspiring beauty.

Tony Soper, author of Antarctica: the Bradt Guide 

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Fish

Two hundred species of fish have been recorded south of the Antarctic Convergence. Many of them, especially those of the coastal waters, are endemic to the region, occurring nowhere else and adapted to the extreme conditions. They tend to be slow-growing. Five families in the order Notothenioidea make up 75% of the Antarctic fish fauna,…

Whales and dolphins

The killer whale is technically a dolphin – the largest of the species © Tory Kallman, Shutterstock Whales, dolphins and porpoises are members of the order Cetacea. They are totally adapted to a life at sea but, as mammals, they must surface to breathe. Modifications to the standard mammal design involve a hairless fish-shape encased…

Penguins

Emperor penguins are one of the hardiest species found in the Southern Hemisphere © vladsilver, Shutterstock Penguins have a long history. Millions of years ago, in the Tertiary period, there were at least 25 species in 18 genera. In the Miocene there was a species 1.5m (5ft) tall, weighing well over 90kg (200lb). Today we…

Albatrosses

The black-browed albatross is an enthusiastic ship follower in the Antarctic © jo Crabbin, Shutterstock The name is an English sailors’ corruption of the Portuguese alcatraz for a pelican, a bird which early explorers would have known from the Mediterranean. Albatrosses are divided into two genera, Diomedea and Phoebetria, but in common language the 14…

Petrels

 Cape petrels are distinguished by their sooty black head and white underwings © Alexey Seafarer, Shutterstock  From the mighty albatross to the diminutive storm-petrel, the petrels, or ‘tubenoses’, includemany species in a wide-ranging group of families. They are characteristically marked by deeply grooved and hooked bills. Their long nostrils indicate a highly developed sense of…

Skuas

Brown skuas are large and powerful, with a heavy body and a fierce manner © Enrique Aguirre, Shutterstock  The name ‘skua’ comes from the Old Norse skufr or skúgvur and is presumably an onomatapoeic rendering of their chase-calls in flight. Skuas look superficially like immature gulls, but they are heavier, more robust and menacing in…

Terns

The Antarctic tern closely resembles the Arctic tern, but the breeding adult is naturally in summer plumage, with a black cap and tail streamers © Andrew M Allport, Shutterstock There are over forty species of tern, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Most are birds of the coast, some are oceanic. They are smaller, more…