When the words “the south” hit your ears, Antarctica is probably not the first place that comes to mind. This ice-filled continent is in fact the most southern location on the planet. It is home to the south pole, which does actually exist. Travel to this pristine continent can be a bit chilly and expensive, but the cost can be worth it as well as the right to say that one is among the proud few who can say that they have seen Antarctica.
Planning a trip to view the glaciers, unique wildlife, and many other rare characteristics of the Antarctic takes a little extra planning than vacations to tropical locations. The continent can only be visited from November to March due to temperature severity, which can reach a low of negative 129 degrees Fahrenheit in air temperature. Frigid temperatures are often accompanied by blizzards and gale force winds. There is no peak season for travel, nor is there an overtly large native population to the continent. In the winter months, the 5.4 million-square-mile piece of land is inhabited by only 1,100 researchers. In the summers, the population increases to approximately 4,400. There are no indigenous inhabitants, unless, of course, penguins and wildlife are what are being counted.
The island of the south, Antarctica, boosts a true variety of wildlife. Four species of penguins are found on the arctic shelf: the Emperor, the Chinstrap, the Gentoo and the Adelie penguins. To survive the subzero temperatures, these flightless birds are equipped with a dense system of waterproof plumage and thick layer of blubber. Penguins are probably the most popular bird when the south pole comes to mind, however, they are not the only fowl found in this frozen area. There are 35 types of birds found below the Antarctic Convergence. Of these, 19 species mate on the continent itself. These include the albatross, fulmars, petrels and shearwaters. These fowl feed on a variety of sea life from squid to fish, and crusteceans.
Antarctic seals are another mammal that is most fascinating for its ability to live in the glacial sea of the south. These seals can be found throughout the regions of Antarctica, with some species inhabiting areas further down the tundra than any other mammal. There are six species of seal found in the area. Each species is unique in its appearance, though common in their need to leave the sea for land during the breeding process. The species include the Weddell, the Crabeater, the Ross, the Leopard, the Fur and the Elephant seal. Of these, the preceding four are the only types considered to be Antarctic species.
The seal population is higher in the Southern Ocean than in the Alaskan area. This is due to the ample supply of food for the mammal, as well as a lack of their natural predator, the polar bear. Not only native to the area, and an amazing sight to see, seals are one of the main reasons for the initial exploration of Antarctica and the surrounding area. The search for new species of seal, as well as their commercial harvest, is one of the original reasons that first led researchers to the frigid area, and the research continues today. Seals may have been one of the largest reasons that humans migrated to Antarctica, but they are not the largest mammal to live in the waters surrounding the magnificent mass of land.
Whales are the largest mammal, and possible one of the most intelligent and majestic. There are eight species of whale that inhabit the Southern Ocean. All of these species feed in the nutrient-rich area in the austral summer and migrate north during the frozen winter months to give birth to their young. The life span for most whales is 20 to 40 years. Despite the potential for longevity, several species of whale were nearly extinct due to hunting. All of Antarctica and its surrounding waters are now an international whale sanctuary. Gaming and hunting of whales is strictly regulated. Despite regulation, the number of whales in the south, and the world as a whole, are not as large as they once were or could be.
With fowl a many and people a few, Antarctica is even more limited in its species of insects. The smallest land-bound animal is only a fraction of an inch in length. This “animal” is the flightless midge, the Belgica Antarctica. This unique and awkward-looking creature is the continent’s only bug.
Animals from large to small make their home, at least in part, in this land of few things living. Untainted by tourists, a raw piece of earth, and the true destination for any traveler daring enough to go south, Antarctica is a place that is a must-see. Start planning now, and save up your funds and plenty of layers, for it will take a brave and curious soul, but Oh the things your eyes will see and the rarities your mind will come to know.
Opinion by Latasha Alvaro
Antarctica Connections LLC