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A Guide to the Life and History of the Arctic and Antarctic

Cindy Wright
Copyright © 2012 by Cindy Wright.

ISBN: 978-1-6205-0638-7 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

This book was printed in the United Kingdom..

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Arctic Fox........................................................13 Arctic Hare......................................................15 Arctic Wolf.......................................................17 Killer Whales...................................................19 Musk Ox..........................................................21 Polar Bear.......................................................23 Reindeer.........................................................26 Snowy Owl......................................................29 Walrus.............................................................31

Beluga Whale..................................................37 Fur Seals.........................................................39 Adelie Penguins...............................................41 Emperor Penguin.............................................43 Cuttlefish.........................................................45 Fish.................................................................47 Seals...............................................................49 Shark..............................................................52 Squid...............................................................54 Octopus...........................................................56 Whales............................................................58 Krill.................................................................60



e have many different ideas about what it might be like to live at the North Pole. For some people, this is quite possible even though it does cause difficulties for daily living. Transportation must be completely different, as any road would be nearly permanently coated in ice. During the summer, there is constant daylight, and during the winter, there is constant darkness. The temperatures are most often below freezing, causing its inhabitants to bundle up. However, this does not occur solely at the North Pole, but in the whole area around it, known as the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle is roughly defined as any area above 66 degrees, 32 minutes latitude on the globe. While this area does indeed include the North Pole, it is not limited to this one area. It holds the Bering Sea, as well as parts of Canada, Russia and Greenland. Not many people can tolerate the harsh climate conditions in the Arctic Circle. In the summer, the temperatures are above freezing but in the winter, it is rare from them to reach this level. Because of the tilt of the Earth’s axis, this area is closer to the sun during the summer months. This means that the darkest it will become is similar to twilight. During the winter months, it is further away from the sun, making it darker all day, rarely brighter than at early dawn. Few people choose to live in the Arctic Circle because of the great difficulties with which they must do things. Instead of driving cars, most people use dog sleds in order to get around from place to place.

However, this leaves the land more free to form and foster its vegetation. The Arctic Circle is a biome referred to as the tundra. The tundra has specific characteristics that set it apart from other biomes, in particular its climate. The temperatures for the winter are normally—34°C, though they can dip about forty degrees lower at times. In the summer, the temperature is more likely to be 3°C to 12°C, which still a very cold summer. During the summers, vegetation tends to grow plentifully, despite the fact that the warmer weather will not last for long. The arctic grass and moss spring up, coating the land during the warm weather. They also have beautiful flowers. Though only found in certain areas, the arctic poppies are heliotropic, meaning they follow the sun the way sunflowers do. The yellow and white flowers are beautiful, though not common throughout all of the arctic. There is also purple saxifrage, which is often the first flower to bloom after the harsh winters. The prairie crocus is another beautiful flower that strongly resembles a daisy with its white petals and yellow centre. However, the most common type of vegetation in the Arctic involves lichens. Lichens create a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a plant, which are usually algae. They are hardy living things, and they can survive for long periods of time even when covered with ice. Naturally, this makes them very conducive to the type of weather that pervades the Arctic Circle for majority of the year. The summers are short-lived, giving flowers limited time to bloom and thrive. They have adapted to the conditions in the tundra and many of them grow in groups close together to provide heat and block the wind. They can reproduce without flowering because there is often not enough time during the growing season for this to occur. Likewise, the fauna (or animals) have also

developed a variety of adaptations in order to survive in this area. Many of the mammals and birds have an extra layer of fat in order to keep them warmer. Otherwise, the cold temperatures might be too much for them to bear. Many animals hibernate during the winter because there is nothing to eat. During the growing season, they will re-emerge from the long sleep in order to take advantage of food sources while they can. This not only enables them to survive, but it provides them with an even thicker layer of fat that will protect them from the cold. Other animals will migrate south for the winter in search of warmer temperatures. Cold-blooded animals are few or nonexistent here because it never gets warm enough to fully heat them. Most are unable to adapt to the harsh climate. Some forms of wildlife in the arctic include the arctic hare, arctic fox, polar bear, killer whale and reindeer. The Arctic Circle used to be much warmer than it is today. By studying geology, or rocks, palaeontologists are able to determine that there were several types of dinosaur that used to reside in these areas. It used to receive only a small amount of snow each year instead of coating the area for majority of the year. Furthermore, it used to be inhabited by Paleo-Eskimo groups. These indigenous people were known as the Dorset and the Thule cultures. Historians believe that the groups worked together in some ways to make the place more inhabitable, such as sharing tools, weaponry and cultural practices. By the year 1300, the descendants of these groups, the Inuit, began to inhabit the area and spread out their territory. Today, people still live in these areas. There are several groups, one of which, the Yupik, still refers to themselves as Eskimos today. Today, scientists and researchers hold many explorations into the Arctic Circle in order to learn more about how it works. They believe that there

might still be valuable information about the past to uncover. Beyond that, tourism is still a relatively small affair. While some people do go to marvel at its mostly undeveloped landscapes, flora, and fauna, tourism is not the Arctic’s biggest industry. Many people go just to see the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights that come around mainly in the winter. They are a spectacular display of lights in the sky that are not visible to those of us who do not live in or near the Arctic Circle. Currently, the Arctic is facing a number of changes that threaten its ecosystem. Temperatures have gradually been growing warmer, which has resulted in snow and ice caps melting. This means that more of the land is covered by water than it used to be. The land area is shrinking, which leaves less room for animals to form habitats and hunt. Besides air and water pollution, the people are now worried about oil and gasoline pollution. The Arctic Circle holds a vast store of untapped oil, and many people are now pushing to use these reservoirs. However, this would mean large changes to the infrastructure and taking a large chance on damaging the environment. Spills or leaks from this oil production could be deadly for the animals and plants that thrive here. Overfishing has also been a large issue for the people and animals of the Arctic. The sea is a main source of food for the people, but lately it seems that there are no longer as many fish as there used to be. This means that seafood is in short supply for the people, but it also means that the animals are lacking in sustenance. In particular, salmon has become in such short supply that the population will not be able to return to its regular levels naturally and will remain at dangerously low levels.

Arctic Fox


rctic foxes, like all animals living in the tundra of the Arctic, have certain adaptations that allow it to survive in such harsh weather and climate. It has a thick white or blue-grey coat that not only allows it to blend into its surrounding as protection from predators, but that also provides an extra layer of warmth. In the summertime, this coat will change to brown or grey in order to camouflage itself among the rocks and plants. These foxes can survive in temperatures as low as—50°C without much trouble.

They have short ears and muzzles, great for cold climates because extremities are often the first places struck by frostbite. Its thick tail helps to keep it warm when winds are blowing by acting as a sort of blanket. Its furry soles allow it to walk on the ice and snow without pain or difficulty. For the most part, arctic foxes eat rodents, birds, fish and occasionally vegetables. However, during the winter, it is difficult to find prey. Arctic foxes may instead follow the polar bears around in order to devour the scraps left behind from their hunting expeditions. The foxes live in burrows, which keeps them relative safe from larger predators like the polar bear. During a snowstorm or a blizzard, they will form burrows in snow banks in order to preserve their own body heat and stay warm. Female foxes are able to give birth to a maximum of fourteen pups each spring. Each fox has a lifespan of approximately three to six years. Excluding its tail, it is about 46 to 68 centimetres long with an additional 35 centimetres for its tail. It will weigh anywhere between three to eight kilograms as it grows older. The arctic fox now faces extinction. The population has grown incredibly small, particularly in the European parts of the Arctic. When disease strikes these animals, it tends to spread quickly because the population is so small. One disease has the potential to threaten the entire species with extinction. They have also been hunted for meat and fur by some of the indigenous people, leaving the population lower than before. Though arctic foxes are good hunters, they are often the animal that is hunted, particular by the wolf, wolverine and golden eagle. Changes in the amounts of smaller animals can seriously affect the well-being of the foxes because it is their primary source of food. In order to conserve what remains of the arctic fox population, there is a push for public

education to raise awareness as well as an increased effort to find suitable mates to force breeding. Not to mention, the arctic fox territories that are well-known, are both protected from other species, like the red fox, that threaten to become dominant, and carefully watched to prevent the spread of disease.

Arctic Hare


rctic hares are one of several types of animals that do not find it necessary to hibernate during the harsh winters on the Arctic tundra. They have developed several adaptations that allow them to survive this way. First, their ears are much shorter than we would see in warmer climates. This keeps the surface area of their body down, and prevents the ears from suffering frostbite. Extremities that are far from the body and not insulated with fat are more at risk for injuries from the cold. Their white fur is thick enough to keep them warm, but they also have some behavioural strategies that increase their odds of

surviving a harsh winter. While the white coat does provide camouflage, arctic hares tend to group together and huddle closely to lock in the body heat of the group. Hares have some basic differences from rabbits. They tend to be taller when they stand on their hind legs, as well as have longer ears. They range in size from 51 to 75 centimetres long from their head to their tail. However, like their rabbit cousins, they can run at extraordinarily fast speeds, up to sixty kilometres an hour. Arctic hares will live to be approximately five years old. They have bright white coats to blend in with the snow in the winter, but they change to blue-grey in order to blend in with the rocks in spring. They will typically eat plants, mosses and lichens, but during the springtime, they will consume berries, nuts, roots, leaves and tree bark. They dig shelters in the snow to promote the generation of heat and to hide from predators. It is common to find groups of hundreds of arctic hares together. However, this group often breaks apart during mating season. Each pair of hares will define its own mating grounds and territories. During the spring or early summer, females give birth to a litter of two to eight babies, which will be ready full-grown and ready to mate in a year. The males tend to take more than one partner, while females do not. These hares are not in any danger of extinction, though they are hunted by a variety of things. Snowy owls, predator birds, polar bears, weasels and foxes all consider the arctic hare a regular part of their diet. Not to mention, the Native Americans hunt them in order to gather fresh meat, as well as use their fur for clothing. However, arctic hares are prone to parasitic worms and fleas, meaning that they might not always be the best source of food or clothing.

Arctic Wolf


he arctic wolf leads a very different lifestyle than the wolves we traditionally think of. These wolves can stand the low temperatures and do not mind the freezing snow beneath their paws. They typically live in small packs or families that travel often. These families consist of one pair of wolves that will breed (known as the breeding pair or the alpha pair), they are offspring or offspring from previous seasons that did not find mates. When the new pups arrive, every wolf takes a role in helping to raise them. They are

typically born in late May or early June after a 63 to 75 day gestation period. There are usually about four pups in each litter. Arctic wolves tend to live in the harshest parts of the Arctic. While they have been around in North America for more than two million years, there is no danger that their population will soon fall. Because of the rougher terrain where they make their dens, it is difficult for men to reach them for hunting purposes. Because the ground is usually hard and frozen, the wolves have learnt to make their dens in shallow caves or rock enclosures. They separate them into several rooms for food and young before officially calling it home. However, they move often and repeat this procedure several times throughout the year. Like most Arctic animals, the wolf has adapted in order to help it survive the weather. For example, it has a shorter muzzle than most wolves do because it helps them to retain their body heat. They also have a much thicker fur, especially on their tail. At night, they cover themselves with their tails much like a blanket to keep their body from being exposed to the cold. Their white or grey fur helps them to camouflage themselves in the snow and rocks. They are 25 to 40 kilograms and usually 60 to 91 centimetres long. When running, they can reach speeds of up to 75 kilometres per hour. In general, they can live to be seven to ten years old. Arctic wolves are great predators. They are all carnivores, hunting a variety of animal depending on what is available. For the most part, they will take on smaller game, such as lemming or arctic hares because that is what happens to be plentiful. However, if the opportunity arises, the pack can band together to take on much larger prey such as deer, elk, moose, or reindeer. The diseases that most commonly affect arctic wolves are rabies and tapeworms. Rabies symptoms

include depression, partial paralysis, aggressive behaviour and death. This can be transferred from wolf to wolf. Tapeworms are another serious problem, which result in an inability to gain or lose weight, depression, urinary tract infections and digestive issues.

Killer Whales


hen we think of killer whales, we often imagine the shows that we have seen with trainers who ask these animals to perform tricks. However, this is not the case for the killer whales that live wild in the Arctic seas. Killer whales are the largest members of the dolphin family, sometimes referred to as orcas. They are some of the fiercest predators, with a diet that consists primarily of meat. They may choose to hunt seals, sea lions, or other whales because of their powerful teeth, which can grow to be up to ten centimetres long. They can snatch the seals right off

the ice instead of waiting from them to enter the water. When larger game is not as readily available, they will feast on fish and squids. They can live anywhere from Arctic seas to closer to the equator. However, those who reside in the coldest parts of the ocean are supplied with a thick layer of blubber, or fat, which helps to keep them insulated and warm. Killer whales are mammals that typically grow to be anywhere from 7 to 9.7 meters long, almost the size of a school bus. In addition, they can also weigh up to six tons once they are full-grown. Their skin is black and white, slippery in the same way that a dolphin’s is. They can jump out of the water in the same way dolphins do, using their large fins. This is how they manage to grab prey that rests on the ice. This type of whale lives to be fifty to eighty years old. For the most part, killer whales travel in groups known as pods. A typical pod is approximately forty whales, making them the top predators in the sea. These pods will be either permanent or transient. Permanent pods tend to live in one particular area, feeding off smaller fish. Transient pods will move about and typically hunt larger game. Killer whales are very protective of their children. The females in a pod will often come together in order to help care for the young, particularly the adolescent females. After a seventeen-month gestation period, a mother killer whale typically gives birth to a single whale every three to ten years. They are not considered an endangered species globally, but some areas do notice that their population is becoming depleted. Conservation efforts are attempting to prohibit whaling and overfishing. Killer whales consume the same fish that many people attempt to catch for a living. This leaves their food in short supply, and could lead to the killer whale being placed on the endangered species list. Killer whales are very susceptible to diseases and

parasites. Many of them will develop tapeworms, roundworms or flukes. All of these are unpleasant and cause digestive difficulties. It is also common to find bacterial, fungal and viral infections. Killer whales also seem to be susceptible to stomach ulcers, skin diseases and tumours.

Musk Ox


usk oxen have developed unique ways of surviving in the tundra of the Arctic. They have developed a layer of thick shaggy fur that covers their entire bodies. Underneath is a shorter undercoat, designed to keep in the heat and insulate them closest to their bodies. When warmer weather comes, the undercoat falls out and thins out their coat. It will regenerate when the temperatures begin to drop below freezing again. Their dark fur stands out against the white snow, but the herd tends to keep them relatively safe. They travel in groups of two to three dozen, usually led by one female. This helps them to

resist predators who would be wary of attacking this many animals at once. Their colouring is not conducive to camouflage, but the herd has come up with ways to keep one another safe. When danger is perceived, they circle around with their horns facing out. In the centre of their circle are the young who would be too weak to offer up a fair fight. Reproduction within the herd is quite fast. Mothers carry their young for a period of eight months before giving birth. Only a few short hours after birth, the new-borns are expected to keep up the pace with the adult musk oxen. They often mate in late summer or early fall and will then give birth in the spring. Males will compete for the attention of the females. The winning male will mate with multiple females. The young will stay with the herd within their range. Each herd has a certain territory, close to both food supply and water supply. They will not venture far beyond this. Musk oxen are herbivores and they will eat whatever type of plants they find. In particular, they will eat willow shoots, lichens, grasses and roots. In the winter, they use their hooves to dig through the ice and snow to access food. However, in the spring, they feed near water sources where flowers and other plants are in bloom. Musk oxen are 1.2 to 1.5 meters tall at the shoulder. They will become 227 to 363 kilograms as an adult. Their life span is approximately twelve to twenty years long. Musk oxen, though not endangered, have seen great difficulties in maintaining their populations in the past. They were hunted for both their massive amount of meat and their warm furs. Today, these musk oxen are protected on preserves throughout Alaska, Siberia and Norway.

Polar Bear


olar bears have become well adapted to the cold climates in the Arctic. While they live primarily on land, that does not stop them from going swimming in the frigid waters. Their fur is thick and insulating, providing a layer between their skin and the harsh winds. Furthermore, underneath their fur is a layer of fat and black skin. Black skin will absorb more of the sun’s heat and rays than white skin would, an adaptation that allows polar bears to stay even warmer. Their fur even grows on the pads of their

feet, which helps to protect them from frostbite and the cold ice as they walk. Not to mention, this also gives them better traction on slippery ice. Polar bears are fantastic swimmers, partly because their front paws are slightly webbed to help them scoop and paddle the water. There are no natural enemies that hunt polar bears on a regular basis. Polar bears are one of the top predators in the Arctic. Their most common type of prey is a seal. They will frequent areas where they know seals may come to resurface for air. They can climb in after a seal or catch it from their spot on the bank. They are clever and resourceful about catching a meal, but they have no problem scavenging carcasses of animals that had been eaten by previous predators or washed up on the shore. They do not generally eat plants, but near human reserves, they sometimes develop a taste for garbage. This can lead to disease and digestive problems, as well as bring them in close proximity to humans. This is dangerous for both the polar bears and the humans who reside in these areas. Like other Arctic animals, polar bears dig deep dens into snow banks because this type of habitat helps to hold in body heat and insulate the den. The females will give birth to a typical litter of two bears, which she will protect until they are old enough to venture out on their own. The male does not stay to help raise the young. After about two years, the polar bears know their survival skills well enough to venture out on their own and begin a life without their mothers. At their full-grown size, they will be approximately 2.2 to 2.5 meters long without their tails. They will also weigh 410 to 720 kilograms. The average life span for a polar bear is 25 to 30 years. Polar bears are very susceptible to roundworm parasites, usually because of consuming an infected seal. These roundworms will lay larvae, which can

infest the muscle tissue. If they enter into certain tissues, such as the heart, it could result in death. Less than 30,000 polar bears exist in the wild today, and people are pulling together to conserve these animals. The climate changes are making it difficult for them to survive because it is causing the ice caps to melt. As the ice caps melt, there is less land for the polar bears to live on. They also use the ice to travel from place to place across the ocean instead of swimming long distances. This is inhibiting them from doing so. While research is being funded for ways to prevent this climate change, poaching is being strictly prohibited and watched. This is one of the greatest dangers to the polar bear. People use them for the meat and for their beautiful white furs.



eindeer are some of the most well-known animals, stemming from their role in holiday tales. Also known as, caribou, reindeer are currently endangered. Conservationists are making every effort to preserve their natural habitats in the forests of the tundra. As the forests are destroyed for logging or residential homes, the reindeer become more susceptible to the attacks of predators. As a result, their population

seems to be decreasing. Conservationists are also attempting to prohibit the snow sports that disrupt the daily living and natural environment of the reindeer. This can include snowmobiles and heli-skiing. These sports and their participants seem to bother the animals that live in these areas, particularly the reindeer. Reindeer are interesting animals in that both the males and females grow antlers. While not all females sport this headgear, many of them do. Reindeer are the only type of deer where this is common. Furthermore, they spend much of their year in migration, one that has developed into the world’s biggest large-animal migration pattern. During the summer months, the reindeer seek refuge from northern areas, travelling more than 600 miles. After the first snowfall, they return to their previous place. The females always leave prior to the males, sometimes with a few weeks head start. Their major adaptation to living in the tundra is their hooves. Each hoof has sharp outer edges that assist the reindeer in climbing on the rocks and uncertain terrain that they typically frequent. In addition, the centre part of the hoof is hollow, which they use to dig around in the snow and scoop up various foods. Not to mention, their large size helps the animals to stay safe both on the snow and in the water for swimming. Typically, they consume grasses and plants in the summertime. Their meals at this time could be up to five kilograms a day. In the winter, when food is scarcer, they find substance in the prevalent lichens of the area. They use their hooves to dig through the snow and ice to access these lichens, which will manage to stay alive for years underneath the ice. They are typically 1.2 to 1.5 meters tall at the shoulder, weighing 109 to 318 kilograms. An average life span is approximately fifteen years. Cows, or

female reindeer, usually have one calf per year. The calf is able to begin standing within minutes, and within a day, it is expected to keep up with the herd as they walk on. One of the most plaguing diseases that reindeer typically face is the infestation of fly larvae. These larvae are similar to maggots and can begin to live in open wounds, making it generally uncomfortable and unpleasant. These can also be passed on to humans, and the chances of that occurring increase if they are obtained through a secondary source. For example, if the fly larvae from a reindeer infected a dog first.

Snowy Owl


he snowy owl is often recognized for its brilliant white feathers, which camouflage it perfectly with the glistening white snow of the Arctic. Only the males have the pure white plumage, while females and chicks have darker spots on their wings and bodies. The major adaptations that they have developed because of their life in the tundra are sharp eyes and superior hearing. While the ground may be covered in a thick layer of ice or snow, snowy owls are apt to recognize and identify potential prey, quickly

snatching it in their talons. While most snowy owls would prefer to catch a lemming, sometimes eating five a day, they are willing to add smaller rodents, rabbits, fish and even birds to their diet. Snowy owls are diurnal, meaning that they will hunt both day and night. This is particularly useful to them when it is constant daylight in the Arctic. They are able to hunt regardless of what time of day and frequently take advantage of the extra light. Their reproduction is interesting, as the amount of eggs that are laid by a female depends on how prevalent food is. A typical clutch of eggs would consist of three to eleven eggs, but some years, owls may not mate at all. While some pairs of owls tend to be very monogamous, they may choose not to mate when there is a particularly hard year to find food. However, when they do mate, snowy owls are very defensive of their young, and will protect their nests at all costs, even against much larger animals. Snowy owls typically live to be about nine to ten years old. At 1.6 to 3 kilograms, they are often 52 to 71 centimetres high. Its weight, stemming from a layer of heavy feathering to protect it from the cold, helps to make it the heaviest owl in the world. Their wingspans could be anywhere from 1.3 to 1.5 metres. While they primarily live in northern areas, they will often migrate to Canada, the United States, Europe or Asia. This depends on the availability of lemmings and other animals in their typical northern homes. While the snowy owl is not an endangered species, it is highly dependent upon the lemming population. When lemmings become scarce, their survival is in jeopardy. Snowy owls prefer areas with few trees, as many of them will sit on the ground in order to hunt. They are incredibly patient, waiting for the perfect moment to strike their prey. However, this also makes them incredibly accurate. They are fearsome predators that use their adaptations in order to help them find

sustenance and survive.



he walrus is probably most known for its great social skill: they often bellow loudly amongst one another, snorting and communicating back and forth. This is the norm for a walrus, an iconic representation of a marine mammal in the Arctic. They are covered with brown and pink hides, wrinkly, and they sport long white tusks. These tusks prove to be a useful adaptation to the Arctic life. In fact, they are often used to assist the walrus in pulling its massive body out of the water. The tusks are strong enough to help pull all 1.4 metric tons of its body up onto the land.

These tusks are about three feet long and do serve some other purposes as well. For example, the males will use them to defend their territory during the mating season. During mating season, the males tend to be very aggressive. They are protective over their female harem and seek to defend the females from the invading presence of other males. This mating season usually lasts from about December to March with any female who is not currently pregnant. Because gestation lasts approximately fifteen months, females cannot reproduce each year. A female will typically only give birth to one calf every few years, however, they do live to be about forty years old so they give birth to many calves during this time. Walrus also have sensitive whiskers, like a cat. They use these to identify food, particularly shellfish, on the ocean floor. It is too dark to visibly recognize the shellfish, so instead they must feel for them. Their blubber helps to insulate them against the frigid waters, and they can even slow down their heartbeat to help them survive in the Arctic waters. In the past, walrus have been hunted to the point of being an endangered species. In some areas, such as the coast off Nova Scotia, they were even hunted to extinction. Everything about the walrus appears to be very valuable: their tusks, skin, oil and meat. However, due to overfishing and overhunting of the walrus, strict restrictions were placed on how they could be hunted. Currently, the only group legally allowed to hunt the walrus is the Native Americans. This has helped the walrus population to regenerate somewhat. Though still on the endangered species list, their survival has much better odds now than it did in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries before these restrictions were added.



he history of Antarctica is still relatively new. Until the 1800s, it was not recognized as a continent. The climate of the area made it difficult to even fathom exploration of a land that was not certain to exist or be inhabitable. Britain, America and Russia were the first to discover this area through commercial operators and national expeditions. Even though Antarctica was, at this point, considered a continent, there was still little human exploration of the area. During the twentieth century, many countries were able to set up camps and centres to promote the scientific study of the terrain, climate, flora and fauna of the area. Long before humans were even considering the possibility of discovering a new continent, Antarctica was attached to several other landmasses in a supercontinent known as Gondwana. It was attached to Australia, Africa, South America, India and New Zealand. The last continent to remain attached to Antarctica was Australia. After the two separated, Antarctica slowly drifted into its polar position. Antarctica is a hard place to live. Other than those who inhabit it for research, it has no regular human occupants. It is considered the coldest place on earth, with temperatures that have once dipped as low as— 89⁰C and the summer temperatures are not much above freezing. In fact, they are commonly only around 15⁰C. In addition, Antarctica also sees very little rain. It averages about ten centimetres a year,

making it the driest place in the world. It is also the only place in the world that has not been assigned a time zone. Those who inhabit this continent tend to keep track of time in reference to the time in their homelands. Flying animals do not exist in Antarctica because of the harsh winds. It is too difficult to fly. This limits the amount of insects that could be buzzing around Antarctica. One of the few that are considered indigenous is the black springtail, which is similar to a flea. Those animals that do live on land are usually microscopic or single-cellular organisms. The largest land animal is a type of beetle that will grow to be approximately twelve millimetres in length. Instead, Antarctica consists primarily of marine mammals. This is the only place that Emperor penguins have been able to make their homes so far. The sea is full of animals, which makes the Antarctic area interesting. They include a variety of penguin species, fur seals, sharks and whales. As the climate is incredibly harsh and only 2 percent of the continent is not covered in ice, it is terribly difficult for plants to grow. Majority of the vegetation recorded for Antarctica includes lichens. Lichens are a hardy species that combine a fungus and a plant in order to create a living thing. This symbiotic relationship benefits both, and is able to survive in even the toughest conditions. It can survive even when covered in ice for three years. Mosses, algae and fungi make up the rest of the vegetation for the continent. Though the Antarctic has remained untouched for so much of human history, it is now beginning to see the effects of our carelessness. The pollution that causes large holes in the ozone layer and permits an excess of ultraviolet light is also affecting the Antarctic area. It slowly changes the climate and the environment. However, perhaps the things that have

occurred since humans have begun to come closer and closer to this area are more dangerous. Ships are increasing the number of oil spills, which severely damages the ecosystems and the animal populations in these areas. Likewise, flotsam, or floating debris, is harming the marine animals that make the Antarctic so interesting and unique. Seals are finding themselves trapped in plastic wrap or choking or bottle caps. This is most likely the result of ships in the area that happen to toss their rubbish overboard, instead of discarding it in a more environmentally friendly manner.

Beluga Whale


he Beluga whale is sometimes referred to as the white whale. They are some of the most easily recognizable and well-known whales because of their appearances. Though the calves are born a grey or brown colour, as they grow older their skin begins to turn to a pale white colour. This is incredibly unusual for a whale. It does not allow them to camouflage themselves in the darkness of the depths of the ocean. However, they need little protection. They are large enough to ward off most other predators, and they travel in pods (or groups) as an added security

measure. They are native inhabitants in the Arctic areas and the Antarctic areas. During the winter, the Belugas migrate to warmer waters where they will not become trapped under the ice. If they should become trapped, they would not be able to resurface for air. Though their size generally protects them from predators, they are still the prey of choice for polar bears, killer whales, and the people who live in the Arctic. Those commercial fishers in these areas tend to trap Belugas in their fishing nets. Typically, a Beluga will feed on fish, crustaceans or worms in order to satisfy its appetite. However, even this may not satisfy them unless eaten in large quantities. They weigh anywhere from 907 kilograms to 1,361 kilograms and require enough food to sustain that weight. In addition, they are approximately four to six meters long. Belugas have an interesting body because they are the only whale that is able to move its head in all directions. Their necks are incredibly flexible. They will live to be anywhere from 35 to 50 years old. Mating typically occurs between March and May. One male may choose multiple female partners instead of remaining monogamous. The gestation period normally lasts about fourteen or fifteen months, at which point the females will begin to move to warmer and shallower waters. The mothers will nurse and care for the young until they are about two years old, at which point the female will most likely become pregnant with another. The females will be ready to mate starting at age five and the males at age eight. Currently the species is known as a threatened species. Conservation efforts remain strong to prevent the whaling that this population has seen in previous years. It is desired for its white skin, blubber, meat and oil. However, the International Whaling Commission has decided to take strong action against

those who are caught violating the whaling regulations and prohibitions in order to take a step towards regenerating the population of Beluga whales.

Fur Seals


here are eight species of fur seals in the southern waters, some of which are native to the Antarctic waters. While they do occasionally find refuge on land, they are more likely to spend their time in the waters. They do breathe air, but have no problems remaining in the water for weeks at a time. They spend this time hunting for their primary food sources, such as fish, birds, squid and krill. While at sea, many travel independently. However, others prefer the company of their colony, or group, and they may swim and hunt

together. The only time that fur seals typically come to land is during mating season. From October to November, the seals make camps along the shores of the sea. Here, the males begin to fight over their territory and the females they will mate with. It is common for a male to mate with as many as twenty females in a given season. Females will remain in the gestation period for about a year, giving birth approximately the same time the following year. It is uncommon for females to give birth to more than one pup. They will mate again about a week later, and begin to make trips into the sea to find food for both themselves and their pups. The pups will be nursed for about four months until they are able to survive on their own. The Antarctic fur seal can weigh up to 317 kilograms, and reach a length of 1.2 to 3.1 meters. They may live to be anywhere from twelve to thirty years old. They are known for their sharp eyesight and hearing. While some seals do not have ears at all, the fur seal has very small ears that provide them with a great sense of hearing. Their blubber keeps them warm in the cold Antarctic waters. They are easy to recognize because of their visible ears and their dark fur, as well as their four flippers that enable them to swim more quickly and efficiently. These flippers also help them to walk swiftly on the land. While they are not considered an endangered species, their population still remain fairly low in some areas. This is the result of overfishing and major climate changes. For the most part, this affects the amount of food that is available to the Antarctic fur seal. It means they must spend more time hunting and may not find enough food to sustain the weight at which their bodies typically function best.

Adelie Penguins


delie penguins are the smallest type of penguin found in Antarctica. They are only about seventy centimetres tall and weigh only four kilograms. Their tails are made of long, stiff feathers that will drag along the ground as they walk. They are black except for their white stomachs and a white ring around their eyes. Their black feathers will even cover most of their short beak. They have become strong swimmers, even in the icy waters of Antarctica. Their feathers consist of mostly a downy material closest to the body. This insulates them and helps to keep them

warm. Meanwhile, the tip of the feather is stiffer and has a waterproof coating that keeps the water from soaking into their skin. Their feet are tough, similar to leather, which helps them to climb on the ice and rocks where they make their nests. The penguins make nests in the rocky areas of Antarctica, particularly during mating season near October. Each nest is lined with small stones, which serve to mark that couple’s territory. For the most part, Adelie penguins tend to be monogamous. The females will compete for the attention of the male. Often times, Adelie penguins will choose the same mate from the previous year’s breeding season repeatedly. After the mating pair is selected, the female will lay two eggs in the nest. The male will keep them warm by placing them on his feet or under his body while the female leaves for a few weeks to go hunting. Typically, only one of the chicks will survive. Adelie penguins typically consume krill, which are similar to shrimp. Whenever they cannot find enough of these tiny creatures to satiate their appetites, they have also been known to hunt fish and squid. They can live for up to twenty years. Currently, Adelie penguins are not an endangered species. As the climate conditions seem to be growing increasingly warmer, the Adelie penguins may have a problem. The warmer conditions affect not only their habitat, but also that of the animals they hunt. The krill and smaller fish that they hunt most often could be in jeopardy of decreasing significantly if the water temperature continues to climb. It is difficult for one chick to survive in some conditions, but it may soon be that neither chick is able to due to a lack of food.

Emperor Penguin


mperor penguins are perhaps the most widely recognized type of penguin. At four feet tall, they are easily the largest penguins. The yellow feathering on the sides of their head and chest is quite possibly the most recognized feature amidst a sea of black and white penguins. Like most others, they have a black back and a white stomach. They may weigh as much as forty kilograms and live to be anywhere from fifteen to twenty years old. Emperor penguins make their homes on the ice of the Antarctic continent, the only place in the world where they can be found.

They deal with the icy temperatures not only with biological adaptations but also with behavioural adaptations. When the winds begin to become stronger, the penguins huddle together for warmth. The penguins on the outside still feel the chill of the air, so they all take turns rotating to the innermost parts of the circle to feel the warmth. Once they feel as though they have been warmed enough, they rotate and give another penguin a chance at the middle. Their feathers help to keep them camouflaged when submerged in the water for hunting. The black feathers on their back help them to blend into the sea from above, should a flying predator or a fish above them see them. Their white stomachs mimic the way the sea would look from down low, mirroring the light of the sun. When it comes time for mating season, the females will lay only one egg, and then will promptly leave it. It becomes the male’s responsibility to ensure that the egg survives. The females will leave on a hunting trip, sometimes for up to two months. They will stuff themselves with fish, squid and krill before returning to their eggs. The males will spend these two months keeping the egg warm by placing it on their feet and covering it with a special feathered skin, known as a brood pouch. During these months, the males will not eat because they cannot leave the egg to find food. When the females return, the fathers take their turn hunting in the sea, while the mother regurgitates the food she captured for her young to eat. The mothers then cover the chicks with their brood pouches, protecting their young from the harsh winter conditions. Though not listed as an endangered species, the emperor penguin could be facing extinction in the future. Because the Antarctic has the largest hole in the ozone layer, the climate is significantly warming. As it does so, the ice melts. This affects the habitats of

these penguins, and could prove to be dangerous to them in the future.



he cuttlefish is interesting in its appearance: it is covered by a mantle that can reach up to sixty centimetres in length that will protect most of its body. It covers the area above their eyes and houses all of their important organs. They weigh about five kilograms. They have eight arms and two tentacles, though these are often retracted into the body except for when capturing prey. In addition, they also have two flat fins that spread the length of their mantles. They have two eyes on either side of their head, and they have a strong beak-like mouth found in the

centre of their arms. They are normally a brown or black colour; similar to the colour of the ink that they release when a predator comes near. The ink is supposed to confuse the predator while the cuttlefish takes advantage of their delay in order to escape. They live only one or two years in the wild. They use their camouflage colouring to help them blend into their surroundings. Here, they will wait patiently until they see their prey and cast out their tentacles to capture it. Cuttlefish primarily eat crustaceans and smaller fish. However, they are still susceptible to becoming the prey of larger animals, such as sharks, monkfish and swordfish. They live mostly in the Mediterranean, North and Baltic seas. Cuttlefish tend to mate during the months of March and June. The males will impregnate the females by a long arm, which is used as a sexual organ. The females will later lay large eggs on the bottom of the sea floor and cover them with ink to increase their chances of survival. The ink helps to prevent predators from seeing or noticing the young laying on the sea floor. They will hatch and feed on the yolk within their egg. Shortly after, they will be capable of capturing their own small food. The parents do not assist or protect the young after their birth. Females will only reproduce eggs once in their lifetime. While cuttlefish are not placed on the endangered species list, many ecologists are now beginning to recognize that they could be in danger. Because they do not reproduce as often as some animals do, the population is not as large. Overfishing is a large issue because many fishermen are capturing tons of cuttlefish each year to use as food or as bait for catching larger animals.



he Antarctic seas hold some of the most amazing fish. Here are the only fish that have been able to adapt to the cold in such a way that they have been able to survive for millions of years. For the most part, they are able to survive at temperatures around 2°C and—2°C, which is the freezing point of the seawater in Antarctica. These are the only fish in the world able to live and thrive at these temperatures. Some fish, such as the Antarctic cod, actually enter a state similar to hibernation during the harsh winters. The cod have been discovered to sit on the ocean floor,

slow their heart rate, and drastically reduce the amount of food they consume during this time. Scientists speculate that it may be because the waters are even darker during the wintertime and they could have difficulty catching prey. It would be best for their survival if they rested instead of wasting precious energy hunting non-existent prey. Certain fish, such as the icefish, actually have certain chemicals in their bodies to prevent their blood and bodily fluids from freezing when the temperatures become colder. This is an important adaptation to have, as it is quite common for the temperatures to dip below the freezing point. This keeps their blood nice and fluid, pumping through their bodies. Antarctic fish do not have much selection about what they should eat. The majority of them will feast on tiny krill or plankton. However, some of the larger ones can hunt smaller fish. Fish in the Antarctic have a much greater chance of being eaten than eating. Sharks, squids, whales and seals will hunt them and it is a dangerous place for them. Many have a colouring that allows them to blend in with the sand on the seafloor or a dark colouring that makes them difficult to see in the dark oceans. The fish of the Antarctic areas face a major threat with the increasing of the temperatures. Because they were designed and have adapted to surviving at freezing temperatures, it is more difficult for them to survive in warmer waters. Antarctica is home to the largest hole in the ozone layer, something that has created a slow but steady increase in temperature. The extra ultraviolet rays have warmed up the waters and started to cause the ice to melt. However, the fish find this particularly difficult to withstand because everything about their bodies helps them to survive in the coldest of all places.



he world contains thirty-five different species of seals, with six of them primarily living in Antarctica. These six species include the fur seal, Crab-eater seal, leopard seal, Ross seal, elephant seal and Weddell seals. Apart from the fur seal, the others are known as “true seals”, meaning that they do not have ears. However, this does not seem to impair their hearing. All of them are capable of hearing just as well both in the water and out. It is difficult for seals to find food in the complete darkness of the

oceans where they often hunt. Scientists are theorizing that they may use a type of sonar to determine the location of things. Sonar is the use of sound waves that reverberate back to the animal and let them know where there is something blocking the pathway. In addition, the seals have whiskers, which are used to feel around on the bottom of the sea floor for the type of food that they need. When seals enter the water, their nose begins to close up. This is because seals cannot breathe underwater. When they are young, they must resurface for air every fifteen minutes. As they grow older, this time extends to be about thirty minutes long. When they sleep in the water, the same thing occurs. Their bodies allow them to float back to the surface of the water for more air without ever having to awaken. They range drastically in size between different species. For example, the Antarctic fur seal is the smallest of the size, weighing in at about 150 kilograms for a female. The male elephant seal could weigh up to 4,000 kilograms. All seals are carnivorous, and most of them will consume fish, squid and krill on a regular basis. However, some of the seals tend to be a bit more aggressive about their prey. For example, the leopard seal may hunt penguins or other seals to satisfy its appetite. They spend majority of their time in the water hunting, but on certain occasions, they do spend time on land. During mating season, they will spend more time on land to both mate and give birth. They may also come out of the water in order to bask in the warm sunlight. Seals are able to survive the harsh temperatures of Antarctica because of the biological adaptations that they have developed over the centuries. They all have a thick layer of blubber, which helps to keep them insulated and warm. Not to mention when food becomes scarce, their bodies can feed off this blubber

and use it as a food reserve. In addition, most of these seals also have a fur coat, which traps in the heat and allows them to stay even warmer. While none of the seals are currently endangered, there is always the possibility of their population dwindling in the coming years. Many people hunt seals for the use of their coats and their meat. This could result in a drastic decrease. Other people hunt the same food sources that the seals use for survival. If their food sources decrease, many of them will not be able to survive. Overfishing has become a recent problem, and conservationists are fighting for the seas to be left to themselves and restrictions to be placed upon fishermen.



cientists have not discovered many different types of sharks living in the Antarctic seas. This may be because their bodies are not designed to survive in the coldest temperatures, where the water is frequently only a little above the freezing. While some animals have blood that will not freeze, many sharks do not share this attribute. However, Antarctica has the largest hole in the ozone layer on Earth. This allows more ultraviolet rays to come through, and has begun to heat Antarctica, if only slightly. Ecologists are now saying that there may be an increase in the

amount of sharks that are surrounding Antarctica as a result. For millions of years, sharks have been nonexistent in this area, but they may now begin to pose a problem for the animals that live there. The addition of a new predator could harm some of the species that are on the borderline of becoming endangered or extinct. Certain sharks, classified as benthic sharks, have the lower metabolism necessary to survive in the Antarctic waters. Sharks need a higher metabolism because they most constantly move in order to keep water passing through their gills. This movement is usually easier in warmer waters. However, benthic sharks are different. They normally reside on the bottom of the sea and could survive in waters as cold as seven to ten degrees Celsius. This is only a few degrees warmer than the Antarctic waters are now and they could come to be inhabitable for the benthic sharks fairly soon. The gills of sharks constantly need to be aerated, or gather oxygen from the water. This means that the shark must constantly be moving through the water in order to accomplish this. Even when resting, some sharks must be constantly moving. It is similar to the human equivalent of sleepwalking. Others have a small opening behind their eyes that forces water to move through their gills while they enjoy a restful slumber. They have no bones because their body is made out of cartilage. Sharks are still classified as vertebrates, even though they technically do not have a spine. Their skin is made of dermal denticles, or small plates that are covered with enamel. This same substance coats the outside of our teeth. Sharks are interesting in terms of reproduction because it is not the same for all sharks. Some females will give birth to a live pup, while other will lay eggs and wait for them to hatch. One of the only shark species native to Antarctica

is the Salmon shark. It will consume anything that it deems necessary: fish, squid, seals, penguins or stingrays. Often, it will travel into the Atlantic or Pacific oceans in search of food sources or warmer waters. Salmon sharks, like all others, have rows of teeth, as well as strong jaws. Instead of chewing their food, they will bite and tear it to pieces with these teeth.



quids are part of a group of animals known as invertebrates, meaning that they have no spine. They can move and bend without the restrictions that vertebrates have. They can be very small, as the smallest squid is only 2.5 centimetres long. Others are quite large; the giant squid can be up to eighteen meters long. The latter is the largest invertebrate in the world. It even has the largest eye in the world. It measures to be about the size of a beach ball. They all

have eight arms and two tentacles for feeding. The tentacles are supposed to help the squid transfer food into its mouth. Squid are most often the food of choice among animals that live in the Antarctic. They fall prey to seals, sharks, whales and penguins. They are also related to cuttlefish and octopuses. Many animals receive their primary nutrition from squid, including sperm whales. Squids are hunted often, but also hunt themselves. They will feed on small crustaceans and fish, but it is common to see them devour one of their own kinds. Scientists speculate that they may eat up to 30 percent of their body weight each day, though the actual figure is difficult to determine. Scientists know fairly little about squid up to this point. They are currently working to determine the average lifespan of a squid. In order to do this, they must use statoliths, which are organs in the back of the squid’s head. Each day, they have a certain amount of deposit. Over time, it becomes similar to the rings of a tree and scientists can use these statoliths in order to determine how long a squid has been alive. However, they already know that they do not live very long. It is believed that their entire life cycle can be completed in a year or less. Once squid reach the age of sexual maturity, the females reproduce and then die. The female will offer up an ovary, but it will destroy all of the muscle lining her body. By giving up this piece of her, it drains her of energy and of the necessary muscle to continue to swim. She will subsequently die, and float to the surface where birds will continue to feed on her. Some squid will mate once and lay eggs all around the ocean floor. They could lay up to 70,000 eggs, but majority of them will be consumed by predators. The young are able to live by themselves from the time they are hatched until they die. They are born with the innate ability to swim and care for themselves.



ittle is known about the Antarctic octopus, as most of the other species tend to frequent warmer waters. It was not until recently that it was recognized

at all. However, now that scientists have discovered a specimen, they have been studiously analyzing it for any sign of similarity to other octopus and they have begun to see some overlapping. Research is still being conducted into this specific type of octopus, but it is believed to share many attributes with the common octopus. The common octopus has one of the most interesting appearances among sea animals. It has a large head and eyes and eight arms. It can be anywhere from 30.5 to 90.1 centimetres in length, weighing 3 to 10 kilograms. It is an invertebrate, meaning that it has no backbone. It is related to the squid yet does have many similarities with it. However, while its appearance is quite shocking, what scientists are finding most interesting is the method of defence that most octopuses employ. Similar to a chameleon, they can change colours to match whatever their surroundings are. They have a specific pigmentation in their skin that allows it to change colour and even appear to be a different texture whenever a predator happens to be nearby. This is its strongest defence tactic. Its predators will swim past, barely noticing a difference between the scenery and the octopus itself. However, if this was not enough to protect it, it often takes tiny shells and crustacean shells to build a wall around its habitat. This marks its territory and makes it more difficult for larger predators to get inside. They will also squirt ink in order to block their bodies from a predator’s view. It gives them just enough time to swim away, as they are very agile swimmers. If an arm should catch them, it is easy for them to lose it. They also have venomous saliva if they should get close enough to issue a bite. They commonly feed on smaller crustaceans. For those who live in the Antarctic, it is likely that they will feed on smaller fishes and krill. Those who live in the Antarctic may be in danger if the climate continues to

rise. Their bodies do not seem to be able to adjust to warmer waters after having survived in the coldest waters for many years. They may become extinct prior to the discovery of any important insights that science has to offer.


It is believed that whales may have been a land animal fifty million years ago. Once they entered the water, they slowly evolved to become what we commonly think of today. The fossils show the animals that they could have been so long ago. Whales are a diverse type of animal, ranging in length from one meter to over 24 meters and weighing approximately 84 tons. Whales are divided into two different categories. These include those that have teeth and

use these to catch their prey, as well as the whales that do not. The ones without teeth use a special filter in their mouths, known as a baleen to catch and trap smaller prey. These whales are referred to as baleen whales. Toothed whales are able to hunt larger animals than the baleen whales. Because of their teeth, they can eat both fish and squid. Larger toothed whales, such as the killer whale, will also hunt penguins and seals. The baleen whales will typically feed on smaller crustaceans, including krill and plankton. Because this is their primary source of food, they will eat quite a bit of it. If these smaller crustaceans should be affected by the climate change, whales, like many other marine animals in Antarctica, will be severely impacted. Most of the whales from the Antarctic migrate. The winters are just too cold and harsh for them to withstand, causing them to swim on to a different location where the weather will be warmer. In the springtime, they will return to their territories. There are only about six species of whale still residing in the Antarctic waters. Over time, many people have discovered the value of their oil and meat. As a result, they were hunted until they almost became extinct. Conservationists fought to have whaling marked as illegal. Now, the population is again growing and can hopefully recover from the damage done to it over the years. During reproduction, the females will take several male mating partners. However, she will only conceive one calf. While whales do have a fairly low rate of reproduction, majority of their offspring survives to reproduce on its own. Unlike other animals that have several offspring of which only one survives, the whales ensure the survival of their young. New calves will follow their mothers for long periods of time, nursing and learning the basics of whale survival.

Even during migration, the calves will follow the mothers. Females will only have a new calf every two or three years after the first has been well nursed and cared for, and it will be ready to survive on its own in the wild. The survival rate is greatly helped by the fact that whales have no natural predators. The only things that routinely hunt them are humans. Their size is their biggest advantage over other animals in the sea. Their size and blubber help to protect them, but also to keep them warm in the chilly waters.


The term krill could refer to any of the 85 species present in the world. They are very similar to shrimp in their appearance. They have large black eyes, while their bodies are primarily transparent with only a red tint from a small amount of pigmentation in their skin. The digestive system is often visible, which would be a bright green colour. This colouring is the result of the plants that they have consumed, as they are primarily herbivores. Most of the time, they will consume microscopic plants and occasionally microscopic animals as well. In the wintertime, these foods are hard to come by and they may live off algae

instead. The adults are only six centimetres in length, and will weigh just a little over one gram. Scientists theorize that there may be as many as 500 million tons of krill in the oceans today, much of it surviving in the Antarctic waters. They reproduce quickly because females can lay up to 10,000 eggs at a time. The closer they come to maturity, the more they tend to stick together. Krill swim together in large groups known as schools. These schools will sometimes last for kilometres in any direction, dying the ocean water a shade of red. During the daytime, they typically stay low to the ocean floor, rising at night-time. They can survive for long periods of time without food. In fact, they can go for up to 200 days with nothing to eat, shrinking in size as they starve. Krill catching became quite popular in the 1900s because they were so plentiful. Many people believed it would be appropriate to catch as much as they wanted because their seemed to be such an abundance of it. However, this was later seen as detrimental to the Antarctic ecosystem. Many of the animals that inhabit the seas there feed on these krill. This can include whales (who consume tons of it), seals, fish, squids and penguins. The result was a convention known as the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which began to regulate the amount of krill that anyone was allowed to catch. They attempt to account for the amount of krill needed for the ecosystem to survive, as well as take actions so that they do not overpopulate the area. It is a tricky balance, but they are making the best of it in order to preserve the Antarctic ecosystem.