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Ocean life

Antarctic life

Animals of the AntarcticAnimals of the Antarctic Lying at the southern end of the Earth, the continent of Antarctica is a huge, mountainous landmass, much of it covered by a permanent ice cap on average about 1.8 kilometres (more than one mile) deep. It is the coldest place in the world. Bitter winds sweep up snow from the ground into fierce blizzards. The only places where plants can grow on this barren land are along the coasts and around the Antarctic Peninsula. Even then they are mostly tiny mosses and lichens growing on the rocks. There is not enough food on the land to feed anything larger than small insects, so the animals of Antarctica are clustered around the coasts and islands, where the ocean waters provide them with plenty of food.

Humpback whales off AntarcticaHumpback whales off Antarctica


The main source of food for many Antarctic animals is plankton. Phytoplankton and zooplankton thrive in the surrounding waters, thanks to nutrient-rich currents and upwellings that swirl through the cold waters. Fish throng the waters, feeding on the zooplankton, including krill, a shrimp-like crustacean, which is a staple food for many other animals. Krill, themselves, feed on phytoplankton, especially diatoms, types of algae.

Crabeater sealsCrabeater sealsWhales migrate long distances to Antarctic waters in summer to feed on the vast quantities of krill. Despite its name, the crabeater seal also feeds almost entirely on krill—the only seal to do so. Other seals and penguins dive after fish, while sea birds such as albatrosses and terns pluck fish from the surface.


The total weight of krill, a tiny shrimp-like creature, in the waters around Antarctica, is estimated at around 380 million tonnes. That is more than the weight of all the humans in the world (around 335 million tonnes).

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