As is true with every trip to view wildlife, there are no guarantees. These are the creatures we saw on our Antarctic voyage, and you will have a very good chance of seeing them as well.
Our sightings depended very much upon where we were. In the Beagle Channel at the start of the trip, we saw large numbers of kelp gulls, cormorants and petrels. Once into the Drake Passage, we were amazed at the number of albatross we spotted. In Antarctica, we frequently sighted skuas and Antarctic terns; and on two occasions, the brilliant white snow kestrel. There are 17 species of penguins in the world. The three that we saw in abundance were gentoos, chinstraps and Adélies.
Crabeaters are the most common seal in the world. Slender with a dog-like head and a uniform coat, they are gregarious, and we often spotted groups of them on ice floes. Contrary to their name, they subsist mostly on krill. Weddell seals have more dome-shaped heads. They tend to be solitary and seem oblivious to the presence of humans. We were able to get close to individuals that had hauled themselves up on rocky shores for naps. Leopard seals take their name from their mottled coats and their carnivorous tastes. They feed on penguins and the pups of other seals, as well as fish and krill. Antarctic fur seals are the continent’s only eared seals. They are fierce, especially in defending their territory on beaches, and have made a remarkable recovery from near extinction. Southern elephant seals are not hard to identify. They can be enormous: up to two tons. The name comes from the pronounced male proboscis, which inflates to create a resonating chamber to amplify the male’s bellow.
Sightings are very much a matter of chance. We had the good fortune to come upon a pod of killer whales one afternoon, and had the excitement of watching a small scientific team from the ship pursue them in a Zodiac in an attempt to attach satellite tags. We also spent an enthralling afternoon among six humpback whales feeding on a huge mass of krill. From the ship, we could hear their great exhalations and then spot their spouts. At one point, some of them came up right next to the ship for a few moments. Antarctica is also home to blue, fin and sperm whales. The most common species is the smaller minke whale.