Antarctic wildlife guide - and what to expect

When embarking on your Antarctica expedition, you’re no doubt anticipating the great untouched wilderness and the absolute beauty of this magnificent continent at the very end of Earth.   

From its unique history of heroic explorers, such as Ernest Shackleton and Sir Edmund Hillary, who paved their way across its breath-taking environment decades ago, through to its endless, photogenic landscape, Antarctica has a certain attractive element for every traveller, and you’ll no doubt have a list of things you want to see, experience and discover as priorities.

For many however, the wonderful wildlife in the form of the many awe-inspiring, breath-taking species you’ll be exposed to is a major attraction. With this in mind, we put together this Antarctic wildlife guide for your next adventure of a lifetime.

Where do Penguins live?

One of the main reasons people visit Antarctica is to see penguins of all varieties, shapes and sizes. Whilst you won’t find any polar bears here, (see our Arctic wildlife guide for that) Antarctica is the home of the penguins.

From the long-tailed Gentoo penguin, easily distinguished by its orange/red bill and the broad, white stripe that stretches across its head, through to the chinstrap penguin, with its black bill and dark ’chinstrap’ across its neck, you’re never short of breeds to view in Antarctica. If you’re lucky, you might also see the Adélie penguin, which, existing on a diet of krill and fish, are native to the continent and can often be found waddling across the snow in their distinct fashion.




Whales, seals and Antarctic marine life

If you direct your line of sight away from the land and towards the sea, the characteristic, upward leap of the humpback whale can be seen as it comes up for air. Meanwhile, the gentle, forward gliding of the blue whale drifts along the surface of the ocean. If the time is right, extra-lucky guests on board Scenic Eclipse just might catch the instantly-recognisable black and white pattern of the Orca.


Also, you might catch a glimpse of the large, earless elephant seals, as they gather on the rocks, congregating in unison. If you do happen to spot a slightly leaner, more athletic creature, that’ll be the leopard seal. Leopard seals have distinctive long, muscular bodies, large heads and short whiskers.



So when should you visit Antarctica to encounter the wildlife?

Antarctica is a constantly thriving environment for polar wildlife, and so, here’s what you can expect at the time of year you choose to visit.


Spring (November-December)

The best time to set sail is between October and March, which is the southern hemisphere’s spring and summer.

If you visit in either November or December, you’re going to see Antarctica at its most pristine and untouched, as it’s the start of the season. It’s also going to be a little colder, as it’s only the start of Summer (The temperature is roughly -5 to +5 degrees). As far as wildlife goes, this is prime courting season for penguins and birds, as eggs start to appear on nests.


Summer (January – February)

Moving into January, this becomes peak season and the wildlife is very much in full swing. With more than twenty hours of daylight, you’ve plenty of time to enjoy the penguin chicks hatching – and of course, you can also enjoy Christmas and New Year here too.


Autumn (March)

As March approaches, a unique opportunity for a wonderful Antarctic experience arises, highlighted by the gloriously beautiful sunrises and sunsets, as well as whale sightings, which hit their all-time high at this time of the year. Visitors at this time of year will also be treated to thinner sea ice, which creates beautiful patterns across the water – not to be missed.

Penguin chicks also begin to moult, and as a result become much more playful and entertaining to watch around this time.


Beyond the wildlife - the Drake Shake and the ‘rite of passage’

Whilst this is an Antarctic wildlife guide, there’s something to be said for the natural environment you’ll encounter on your journey there. Although the 6-star, ultra-luxurious suites of Scenic Eclipse may be serene, tranquil and a safe haven away from the cold, the rough seas along Drake’s Passage on the way to Antarctica are often a source of excitement for many polar travellers.

The ‘Drake Shake’ experienced along the passage is nothing short of normal, and is often described as a rite of passage by many guests.

Again however, on board Scenic Eclipse you’ll be encapsulated in the safety of the World’s First Discovery Yacht’s Polar Class 6safety rating, along with our custom-built stabilisers that are 50% larger than standard, giving us greater stability in rough seas. Additional support comes from our state-of-the-art fins, which can adjust themselves to cope with even the biggest swells at sea.

Safety and unrivalled comfort is our main priority for guests setting sail on this exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. This safety continues on board our Zodiacs, kayaks, seven-seat U-Boat Worx submarine and state-of-the-art Airbus H130 helicopters.

And a final fact that’ll leave you amazed and inspired by this truly impressive landscape: the stark, impressive icebergs you’ll see during your trip - did we mention that one about to break off is five times the size of Manhattan?

 Embrace your sense of wonder and start planning your next adventure with Scenic. Explore our range of Antarctic itineraries and become immersed in all that Scenic Eclipse has to offer.

Richard Brierley headshot
Richard Brierley
Richard is Scenic's Digital Marketing Executive. Rich loves to travel - visiting 6 of the world's 7 continents in recent years. A keen runner he has completed five marathons.