Wildlife in Antarctica
Antarctica is home to around 235 marine species. These sea-dependent animals range in size from the larger whales to the smaller but iconic penguins. The gentle but giant whales captivate scientists and wildlife enthusiasts alike, but penguins are considered Antarctica’s mascot. Penguins are a large and diverse group of aquatic, flightless birds that live almost exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere.
Most of the White Continent’s inhabitants are seasonal residents that travel to Antarctica during the austral summers to feed and reproduce. This includes a variety of penguins, whales, and other notable sea birds like the Albatross. Only a few species make Antarctica home year-round. Emperor and Adelie penguins live on the continent all year, while the Gentoo, chinstrap, and macaroni penguins live on Antarctica and its surrounding islands for just part of the year. King Penguins can be found on South Georgia.
A Little More About Penguins
Did you know there are 5 distinct species that live in and around the Antarctic Peninsula?
We have described a few of our favorite penguin species below that travelers are likely to see while visiting Antarctica and surrounding areas. Penguins are an enchanting and essential part of the Southern Hemisphere. We hope each traveler has the opportunity to experience these unique animals and the incredible places they call home.
Interested in learning more? The White Frontiers Team loves all things wildlife and polar adventure! Please give us a call, send an email on our contact page, or leave a comment below.
5 Penguin Species To Know If You Are Traveling South
Adelie penguins look like small men in suits with their black head and back, and white chest. They are distinguished also by the white ring around the eye. Adélies are truly Antarctic penguins, living only in Antarctic coastal waters. During winter they spend their time in the pack ice, and in the summer they move south, back to the Antarctic coast.
- Estimated population: 2.5 million breeding pairs
- Where they live: Antarctic continent and sub-Antarctic islands; Adelies can be seen in certain sites during Antarctic Peninsula cruises
- Breeding season: November – February
Chinstraps, Known for the black band of feathers below their chin, Chinstraps are possibly the most populous Penguin in the Antarctic. A bit smaller than Adelies, Chinstraps are known for being noisy and aggressive.
- Estimated population 8 million breeding pairs
- Where they live: Antarctica, South Shetland Islands, South Orkneys, South Georgia and Bouvet Island, Chinstraps can usually be seen on Antarctic Peninsula & South Georgia cruises
- Breeding season: December – March
Emperor, The tallest and heaviest of the penguin species, the Emperor lives in Antarctica year-round. Reaching up to 40 kg and standing over 1 meter, these penguins have an upright bearing that goes with their name. The only species to breed in the Antarctic winter, the male emperor penguins are known for balancing the egg on their feet for months on the ice while the female feeds.
- Estimated population: 595,000 individuals
- Where they live: Continental Antarctica, the southernmost penguin species; Emperors can be seen on special interest trips that focus on inland excursions
- Breeding season: April – December
Gentoo, The most northern of the Antarctic penguin species, the Gentoo can easily be identified by its bright orange-red bill and white stripe above the eye. A bit larger than the Chinstrap and Adeile penguins, the Gentoo has a longer tail and is known for its head-back chortling call.
- Estimated population: 320,000 breeding pairs
- Where they live: Falkland Islands and south to the sub-Antarctic Islands; Gentoos are numerous on the Antarctic Peninsula trips & in the Falkland Islands
- Breeding season: December – March
Macaroni, This distinctive penguin has a yellow crest, making it easy to identify. Macaroni penguins are social birds and have the largest and most densely populated breeding colonies.
- Estimated population: 9 million breeding pairs
- Where they live: Sub-Antarctica Islands to Antarctic Peninsula (including Falklands, South Georgia, South Shetlands); these penguins are less commonly sighted, but can be seen on Antarctic Peninsula trips
- Breeding season: October – December