It's hard to imagine that any living creature could feel at home along Antarctica's windy coastline or in the icy waters surrounding the continent, but in fact, a small number of species actually thrive in the Southern Ocean. Not every animal species is native to the Antarctic though--some prefer warmer climates during the winter--yet year after year, animals migrate to the peninsula to nest on its shores, feed in its waters and enjoy the region's austral summer, which runs from November through March. So as the Antarctica cruise season begins, tourists will find an abundance of penguins, birds, seals and whales, taking full advantage of the area's plentiful food supply and pristine environment.
Penguins are probably at the top of the must-see list for many tourists visiting Antarctica. Of the 17 species of penguins in the world, only six are found this far south on the globe and only four of these actually breed on the Antarctic continent. On your journey, you'll discover a number of coastlines teeming with Adelie, emperor, chinstrap and gentoo penguins. Venture out in zodiacs to get up close to large penguin rookeries, some with populations greater than small cities. You'll never forget the sights, sounds and smells as penguins hop, waddle and belly flop on the snow-white shores of Half Moon Bay, Penguin and Deception islands.
The unlimited food supply during the summer attracts a wonderful display of other birds as well, including dynamic albatrosses, the largest flying seabird with a wingspan of up to 11 feet. It's not uncommon for a wandering albatross to follow a ship, gliding alongside for hours at time. You might also see a variety of gulls, petrels, skuas and terns as you kayak and hike your way around the continent. Adapting to the harsh environment is no problem for these seabirds, which rely on waterproof plumage, blubber and large, compact bodies to conserve body heat.
Watch in awe as whales glide effortlessly through the waters of the Antarctic. Whale sightings may include blue, killer, sperm and humpback varieties. These marine mammals migrate long distances to feed and frolic in the ice-blue waters of the Antarctic, so you'll want to stay on the lookout for a sighting, especially as you navigate the unpredictable waters of the Drake Passage.
Another iconic marine mammal of Antarctica is the seal. Seals were commercially hunted in the 18th and 19th centuries for their skin, fur and oil, which caused a major decline in seal numbers but also led to further exploration and the discovery of the Antarctic Peninsula. No longer threatened, seals feel right at home in Antarctica due to a smorgasbord of food and little fear of predators. These beautiful creatures are now protected by the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, and can be found lounging on pack ice or hanging out on beaches in South Georgia during the austral summer.