Despite having some of the harshest cold climatic patterns on the planet, Antarctica abounds with gems of wildlife unique to its ecosystems. These animals are well adapted to survive this extreme weather, and reproduce vibrantly therein. A lack of human development on the frozen continent also facilitates the prosperity of Antarctic wildlife. Global warming and other climate change factors, however, are increasingly taking their toll.
Also called the dove prion, the Antarctic Prion is a seabird whose feathers and upper body are grayish blue, and the underbelly from throat to the tail feather mostly white. Its bill is light grayish and curved on the tip, while the forehead is rounded and legs black. The Antarctica Prion has a wingspan of 80 to 91 centimeters, weighs 440 grams, and the body length is 35 to 42 centimeter,s according to Polar Conservation. Its populations are distributed on Antarctic continent, and islands like South Georgia, Scott, South Sandwich, South Orkney, South Shetland, Macquarie, Auckland, Heard, Crozet, and Kerguelen, according to the Department of Environment, Australia Antarctic Division. Antarctic prions are social, and live in flocks of thousands in those islands. Crustaceans like euphausiids, tiny cephalopods, small fish, polychaete worms, and carrion, are part of the Antarctic Prion diet. To feed, it runs along the water surface wings outstretched, and the bill and head submerged in water to scoop their food. To reproduce, the Antarctic Prion lays one egg in December and is incubated for 45 days by male and female seabird. 45 to 55 days after hatching, the fledglings leave to grow independently. According to Polar Conservation, the Antarctic Prion has a lifespan of 15 to 20 years.
Orca (Killer Whale)
The killer whale, or the Orca, is a carnivorous ocean mammal, and the largest member of the dolphin family. A male’s maximum length is 9.8 meters, the female 8.5 meters, and the calf 2.4 meters. The Orca has 4-inch teeth, and in context it’s about the size of minibus. A male orca weighs 10,000 kilograms, a female 7,500, and a calf 180 kilograms, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation. It has a huge black body, white underbelly, a white patch above and behind the eye, and a grey saddle patch, behind the dorsal fin. The Orca’s diet comprises of seals, sea lions and birds, turtles, sharks, squid, whales, cephalopods and fish. The habitat for the Orca is oceans with cold water in Antarctica, Norway, Alaska, the North Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Sexual maturity for male orcas starts at 15 years, but only at 21 are they physically mature to mate. Female orcas maturity begins in early teens, according to ARKive Initiative. The lifespan of the Orca is 50 to 80 years, according to National Geographic. Orcas are social, and travel in groups called pods, with 5 to 30 of them or more, according to Defenders of Wildlife. Female orcas lead these pods. They can also swim at speeds of up to 54 kilometers per hour.
The Adelie penguin is a migratory bird named after the wife of French Antarctic explorer Dumont d’Urville, according to ARKive Initiative. Its populations are spread across the Antarctic continent, and such southern islands as South Shetland, South Orkney, South Sandwich, and Bouvetoya, according to Penguin World. A male Adelie penguin weighs 5.4 kilograms, and the females 4.7 kilograms. Adult body lengths reach about 70 centimeters. At full maturity, the adelie penguin has a black head, with white rings around each eye and a red bill. Its back is black, with blue tipped feathers; the chest is solid white, and the feet are grey pink, according to ARKive Initiative. Adelie penguin’s primary diet is the krill, small fish, squid, amphipods, and cephalopods. To get food it’s known to dive 175 meters into the water, and it’s an adept swimmer, according to National Geographic. Adelie Penguins are social and breed in colonies numbering to thousands, in nested depressions on the ground lined with small stones, to protect eggs from water. At times, they steal nesting rocks from other nests. Both male and female Adelie penguins take turns incubating the eggs. Sexual maturity begins from 3 to 6 years, according to Animal Diversity, and it can live on average 20 years in the wild, according to National Geographic.
The sea cucumber is an echinoderm also called the holothuroidea. Its body is shaped like a cucumber with small tentacle like tube feet, for movement and feeding. Depending on specie, the sea cucumber can be red, dark green, and black. Its length varies from less than an inch to over 6 feet, according to the National Wildlife Federation. The sea cucumber lives on the sea floor, or at times it’s buried on it, and is thereby regarded as the sea’s earthworm. Still other planktonic sea cucumber species float on the sea, and move with currents. It scavenges and feeds on algae, aquatic invertebrates, and sea waste particles and recycles them back to the ocean like an earthworm. Sea cucumbers are found in nearly all marine ecosystems in the planet. A sea cucumber exhibits sexual and asexual traits, according to National Wildlife Federation. Females release eggs into the water, and they get fertilized on coming into contact with sperms released by males. For this reproduction to work many males and females need to be together at one location. A sea cucumber lives 5 to 10 years, according to National Wildlife Federation. When threatened it discharges sticky threads to trap its enemies or even mutilates its own body. The missing body parts later regenerate.
Rotifers are tiny microscopic zoo planktons that thrive on moist soils, freshwater, brackish waters and marine environments, according to Reed Mariculture. According to the Encyclopedia of Life, there are about 2000 rotifers species, and their size generally ranges from 0.1 to 1 millimeter, though some reach 2 to 3 millimeters. They feed on microalgae and are food for fish, shellfish, corals and other aquatic organisms. Due to their high reproductive rates, and nutritional importance, rotifers are used in aquaculture and aquariums. Some rotifers lead a solitary lifestyle and others live in active colonies. The front end of rotifers has a corona that gives an impression of spinning wheels. According to the Museum of Paleontology University of California, rotifers live also in lake bottoms, rivers, and streams, sewer treatment plants, and even grow on freshwater crustaceans. Antarctica’s native rotifer is the rusty red Philodina gregaria. During summer it’s found in large quantities in ocean bottoms and pools.
As one of the largest animals on earth, the blue whale main diet is krill, a crustacean, and one of the tiniest aquatic creatures, daily it eats 2 to 4 tonnes of it. It is also called the Antarctic blue whale. A male’s length is 29 meters and a female is 33, and a calf is 7 meters long. A male blue whale weighs 150,000 kilograms, and a female 180,000 kilograms and a calf’s weight is 2,700 kilograms, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation. A blue whale head makes up to a quarter of its body’s length, and has a streamlined body dotted with pale blue spots on its back. Its belly color is paler or at times white, but it looks yellow due to an algae layer. The blue whale’s head is broad and long, and U shaped. It has two blowholes that when exhaling spew water sprays up to 9 meters into the air. Blue whales are found in North Pacific and Atlantic, and Southern and Northern Indian Ocean, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation. In the oceans they swim in small groups, but largely alone or in pairs, according to National Geographic. During summer they spend time feeding in polar waters, and then migrate towards the equator at the onset of winter. A blue whale swims at 5 miles an hour but when agitated can reach up to 20 miles an hour. Blue whales are loudest animals in the world. In calm conditions they hear each other’s groans, pulses, and moans up to 1000 miles away, according to National Geographic. A blue whale’s sexual maturity starts at 6 to 10 years, according to American Cetacean Society. Its average lifespan is 80 to 90 years in the ocean, according to National Geographic. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the blue whale an endangered species. It’s estimated that there are between 10,000 and 25,000 blue whales remaining, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation.
The snow petrel is a two subspecies all white bird with dark eyes, black bill, and bluish grey feet native to the cold, icy Antarctic continent. Its weight range is 260 to 460 grams and length 30 to 40 centimeters with a wingspan of 75 to 95 centimeters, according to ARKive Initiative. Fish, squid, mollusks, krill, euphausiids, carrion of seals, whales and penguins and refuse, are part of the snow petrel’s diet. Snow petrel populations are mostly in the Antarctic continent and peri-Antarctic islands, as well as South Georgia, Bouvetoya, South Sandwich, and South Orkney Islands, where they nest on cliffs as colonies. To avoid predators like the south polar skua, a snow petrel flies low over the water or very high over the land. Snow petrels are sociable and fly erratically in bat like motion. In a crevice nest a snow petrel can squirt with its mouth foul smelling oils at intruders and can also fight them with its bills and wings, according to New Zealand Birds Online. The snow petrel can live for up to 20 years, according to Melbourne Museum, and their average age of sexual maturity is seven years, according to the Cold Regions Bibliography Project.
The colossal squid is a large deep sea predator whose body length and tentacles combined is up to 14 meters, and it weighs about 500 kilograms, according to Oceana. It has eight arms whose lengths are 0.85 to 1.15 meters, and two tentacles about 2.1 meters long, according to Museum of New Zealand. At the club shaped ends on tentacles, the colossal squid has rotating hooks that grab and hold prey. Its diet comprises of fishes like the Patagonian tooth-fish, and other squids. The colossal squid’s skin is reddish pink, and the eyes are larger than of other creatures in the planet, according to Squid World. A male squid is smaller than a female. The deep oceans of Antarctica and south west Pacific in New Zealand, is where the colossal squid is found. It lives 1,000 feet below surface. Researchers believe the colossal quid leads a lone lifestyle and eat large food amounts. It’s known to fight off the predatory sperm whales that prey on it.
The leopard seal is an aquatic, aggressive carnivorous mammal found in the Antarctic continent coast, sub-Antarctic islands, and South Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand coasts. A male leopard seal weighs up to 300 kilograms, and a female up to 500 kilograms, according to ARKive Initiative. The body length of a male leopard seal is between 2.8 to 3.3 meters, and a female 2.9 to 3.8 meters. At full maturity, its coat is silvery-grey to black, coat with patchy dark spots, and pale underbelly. It has front flippers for swimming. A leopard seal’s head is large and reptile shaped, and the neck long and flexible and a jaw with long canine teeth. Its diet comprises of small seals, krill, penguins, seabirds. It preys on them by hiding under the ice and its dives underwater, last up to 15 minutes, according to NOAA. A leopard seal leads a solitary life, pairs, or smaller group. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a female achieves sexual maturity at 4 years and a male leopard seal at 4.5 years. The average lifespan of a leopard seal is 12 to 15 years in the wild, according to National Geographic, but some have lived for up to 26 years. The whale is the only known leopard seal predator.
The emperor penguin is the largest of about 17 penguin species documented. At full maturity, it stands at 1.15 meters, and weighs up to 88 pounds or 40 kilograms, according to National Geographic. The emperor penguin has yellow ear patches that fade into the white of breast feathers and underbelly. Feathers on its back and wing like appendages are grayish-black. Emperor penguin main diet comprises of cephalopods, fish, and krill, according to Penguin World. In a day the emperor penguin can eat 2 to 3 kilograms of food, but when they need to fatten up to breed, it eats up to 6 kilograms. Emperor penguins populations are scattered all over Antarctic continent, and they range from few hundred to over 20,000 pairs, according to Australia Antarctic Division. To survive the harsh freezing katabatic winds and blizzards of speeds up to 200 kilometers an hour, and to keep warm males huddle closely together, as this reduces heat loss by up to 50 percent, according to Australia Antarctic Division. Male emperor penguins achieve sexual maturity at 5 years and females at 6, according to Avian Scientific Advisory Group. Their average lifespan, according to National Geographic is 15 to 20 years but some have lived over 40 years, according to Australia Antarctic Division.