One of the highlights of any expedition into the Antarctic waters is whale-watching. These majestic creatures can be spotted breaching the water in magnificent displays as they blast air and water high into the sky. If you’re lucky, they might even swim close to your ship.
But although whales are among the largest creatures to have ever lived on earth, they still hold great mysteries which marine biologists are unfolding more of each day. In the Antarctic, both baleen and toothed whales can be found, as the cold nutrient-rich water provides a full menu for these enormous mammals.
Just like other mammals, humans included, whales are warm-blooded, give live births, and feed their young with milk for up to a year. And despite their incredible lung capacity, they do breathe air and need to resurface to catch a breath. This is when most people can catch the best glimpses of them.
Like dolphins, one of the most fascinating things about whales is their intelligence and social behavior, reminiscent in many ways of human behavior. Combined with their ability to migrate thousands of miles every year to breed and find food, whales truly are a unique species.
Types of Whales You Might See in the Antarctic:
- Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
- Length (Males): 25m
- Length (Females): 26.2m
- Average Weight: 100-120 tons
- Color: Above water – Gray/ blue & Dark gray; In water – Vibrant aqua blue.
- Fast facts: These are the largest animals to have ever lived, even when compared to dinosaurs. While feeding, a calf can gain up to 200 pounds per day, including drinking up to 50 pounds of its mother’s milk. Although the biggest creature to ever swim through the oceans, its diet is made up entirely of the smallest creatures – as a baleen whale, it filters through tons of waters every day to sift out plankton and krill.
- Southern Right Whale (Balaena glacialis)
- Length: 20m
- Average Weight: Up to 96 tons
- Fast facts: They are distinct from other whales because their large bulbous head and cumbersome body are not streamlined like other whales.
- Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis)
- Length: 16m
- Average Weight: 13 tons
- Fast facts: They are hard to spot and tend not to travel in schools; in the southern waters, only older whales can be occasionally spotted around Antarctica.
- Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
- Length (Males): 12.9m
- Length (Females): 13.7m
- Average Weight: 25-35 tons (max: 48 tons)
- Fast facts: These are among the easiest whales to spot, as they travel close to shore in groups. The males’ songs during mating season are the most complex of any animal.
- Antarctic Minke Whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis)
- Length: 9m
- Average Weight: 7 tons
- Fast facts: These baleen whales are filter feeders, meaning that they sift the krill from the water through broom-like plates rather than teeth.
- Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
- Length: 20m
- Average Weight: 50 tons
- Fast facts: In addition to being the second largest whale in the ocean, it is also the fastest and most common and has a song that can carry for over 100 km.
- Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
- Length: 16m
- Average Weight: 35 tons
- Fast facts: In the Antarctic waters, you’ll only see male sperm whales. They hold the title as the deepest divers of all whales since they feed on the giant squid in the ocean’s depths. Interestingly, they only have teeth in their lower jaw.
- Killer Whale (Orcinus orca)
- Length (Males): 9-10m
- Length (Females): 4.5-6m
- Average Weight (Males): 11.1 tons
- Average Weight (Females): 8.3 tons
- Color: Black & white
- Fast facts: These renowned carnivores are expert hunters, preying on anything from krill and fish to penguins, seals, and even other whales.