6 Animals of Antarctica

From playful penguins to stoic seals, here’s a look at some of the amazing animals that roam the frozen landscapes and icy waters of Antarctica!

Jun 22, 2023By Lauren Rey
animals antarctica

From rocky coastlines to icy landmasses and the frozen sea, Antarctica is one of the most remote and wild places on Earth. Antarctica is the only continent with no permanent residents. While researchers and tourists visit Antarctica, the harsh landscape and climate do not support permanent human habitation. Antarctica’s wildlife is uniquely adapted to survive in such conditions. From famous penguins to the world’s largest seals, here’s a look at some amazing animals that live in one of the coldest places on Earth!

Emperor Penguin

emperor penguins

Antarctica is known for its penguin population. One of the most well-known and adored is the Emperor penguin. Emperor penguins are the largest of all penguin species growing up to 4 feet and weighing up to 100 pounds. Emperor penguins are one of the most commonly spotted penguins on Antarctic expeditions. They can be seen waddling around on ice sheets in massive colonies or playfully sliding down the ice on their bellies.

Emperor penguins are well adapted to their icy environment. They have high reserves of body fat and several layers of intricate feathers to protect them from the strong, frigid winds. Emperor penguins feed on fish, krill, and squid which they are able to catch with their extraordinary diving capabilities. They can dive to great depths of over 1000 feet, deeper than any other penguin or bird species.

emperor penguin colony

Emperor penguins are very social and display complex societal behaviors within their colonies. One of the most astonishing behaviors penguin researchers have observed is known as the huddle. During blizzards, Emperor penguins will form a massive huddle with all the penguin chicks in the center. The adult penguins then take turns outside of the huddle. This process keeps the entire colony warm and protected during the blizzard.

Leopard Seal

leopard seal

Leopard seals were named for their unique spotted coats that resemble that of a leopard. They can be found throughout Antarctica and are one of the largest seals in the world weighing in at over 1000 pounds. While leopard seals are endeared for their dog-like appearance and permanent “smile”, these animals are top predators in the Antarctic. They are much more dangerous than their smaller cousins found in the US and should only be observed from afar.

Leopard seals are mostly solitary except for mating and pupping season. They are known to be territorial and will defend their territory aggressively if they feel threatened. Their diet is varied as they have the ability to both filter feed for krill as well as hunt and take down larger animals. Leopard seals have been known to hunt other seals and penguins. The leopard seal’s only natural predator is the orca.



Orcas are found throughout the world’s oceans, mostly in the coldest waters, making Antarctica one of their ideal habitats and hunting grounds. Orcas in Antarctica swim the icy waters in familial packs known as pods, hunting for penguins, seals, fish, and squid.

Orcas are also known as killer whales, a nickname originally given to them by sailors who observed them hunting other whales, as well as dolphins. Orcas are fast swimmers and have been clocked at speeds up to 33 miles per hour. They can cover a wide range of ocean in one day, often swimming distances of 40 to 100 miles. The largest males of the species can weigh in at a whopping 22,000 pounds and have a 6-foot dorsal fin!

Observations of orcas with newborn calves in Antarctic waters have led marine biologists to believe that orcas are the only cetacean species to breed in Antarctica. Another rare feat for these extraordinary marine mammals!

Southern Rockhopper Penguin

southern rockhopper penguin

Another of Antarctica’s famous penguins, the southern rockhopper penguin is known for its small stature and unique appearance. It is the smallest of all Antarctica's penguins weighing in at less than 8 pounds. They have a unique crested feather pattern above their eyes which have a spiked appearance.

Southern rockhopper penguins are found along the rocky coastlines of Antarctic islands. They were named for their hopping movements in how they travel. In contrast to other penguins that typically waddle or slide on the ice, rockhoppers, well you guessed it, hop from rock to rock! Like other penguins though, rockhoppers are excellent divers! They can reach depths of 300 feet or more in search of fish, squid, and crustaceans.

Southern rockhopper penguins are not as social as other penguins, although they do form breeding colonies. They can be quite territorial and are often seen fighting, usually by slapping each other with their flippers until one backs down.

Antarctic Minke Whale

antarctic minke whale

One of the most majestic creatures to cruise the Antarctic waters, the Antarctic minke whale is a member of the baleen whale family. These filter-feeding whales find an abundance of food in Antarctic waters with a heavy population of Antarctic krill.

Antarctic minke whales spend most of their time swimming solo but have been known to congregate and socialize while feeding on large swarms of krill. Groups have also been observed congregating in between large chunks of sea ice during the winter.

While many Antarctic minke whales stay in Antarctica year-round, some have been known to migrate during the winter. Little is known about their exact patterns, and some have been spotted as far away as Australia.

Southern Elephant Seal

southern elephant seal

The southern elephant seal is the largest seal in the world. Males can reach lengths of almost 20 feet and weigh a whopping 8,000 pounds! They are known for their dominant and aggressive behavior and the brutal battles they engage in during breeding season.

The southern elephant seal has a unique polygamous breeding system in which the male seals will establish territories along the beach. These territories are set by fights in which only the largest and toughest seals survive. Once the females come ashore, they will form breeding colonies known as harems with large groups of up to 50 females to one male. The male seals will breed with and protect his harem during gestation and nursing.

Outside of the breeding season, southern elephant seals spend most of their time at sea. They are excellent divers and can reach depths of up to 7,000 feet in search of squid, octopus, and mollusks.

Lauren Rey
By Lauren Rey

A lover of all animals, Lauren’s background is in the veterinary world, but she is now a content writer on travel, wildlife, and all things pets! She’s based in Florida, but when not writing, she’s usually plotting out a new road trip route with her partner-in-crime. Pickles is a mixed-breed rescue dog that loves hiking, road trips, and Starbucks just as much as her mom does!