a field guide to the planet - by Damon Ramsey
This is the last continent most people visit. It is the most remote, coldest and unspoiled place on Earth. It is great for penguins, wildlife spectacles, and beautful scenery.
I have worked in Antarctica as a lecturer and guide, visiting the Peninsula on an expedition ship, as well as two seasons in the different sub-Antarctic islands.
This is a huge area comprising it's own continent. The most accessible part of Antarctica is the Antarctic Peninsula.
There are many sub-Antarctic islands to visit on the way to Antarctica, including South Georgia and the Falklands/Malvinas off South America, Tristan de Cunha in the mid-Atlantic, Macquarie Island off Australia, Auckland Island, and Campbell Island off New Zealand.
Many people who visit the polar areas often compare the two. They are quite different.
Where the Arctic is a sea (often frozen) surrounded by a lot of land, Antarctica is a continent surrounded by water, the Southern Ocean.
In many parts of the Arctic and the areas to the south, humans still hunt, kill and eat animals, including seals, whales and dolphins. The regions where this still occurs include Russia, Canada, Greenland, Norway, and the Faroe Islands (off the U.K.). In contrast, there are strict rules about interacting with wildlife in Antarctica, and animals on the continent are protected. This obviously has different effects on the abundance of animals, and the behaviour of wildlife. In the Arctic, animals are much shyer and harder to observe, while wildlife is usually easy to see around Antarctica.
While the Arctic is a colder extension of the Holarctic biogeographical region, the Antarctic continent has been isolated for a long time. Thus, while the Arctic is home to flowers and songbirds, the southern continent does not have any.
Because it encircles the bottom of the planet, there are various ports from which to depart for Antarctic trips, including the southern parts of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Chile. However, most people leave from Ushuaia in Argentina and head to the Antarctic peninsula.
Antarctica does not have a high diversity of wildlife, as it generally lacks most of the basic groups, such as flowering plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, songbirds, and land mammals. Thus, you have a good chance of seeing most species that are there in one or two trips. And because the same species are widespread, they can be seen no matter what part you visit.
There are various species of seals to be seen, from both of the main groups of 'true seals' and 'eared seals'.
There are several species of cetacean to be observed...
But don't forget the little guys, the Krill that support the whole system!
The lack of species diversity is made up for by spectacle. There are often large aggregations of animals in colonies. It is easy to see wildlife throughout the day. And there are lots of interesting behaviours that can be observed.
Another feature that keeps the area interesting on repeated trips is the scenery, particularly the ever-changing landscape of ice...
Thinking of travelling again after everything settles down? One of the first expeditions I am booked to work on is the NZ sub-Antarctics with Silversea Expeditions and Australia with Coral Expeditions. And here is a shortened version of one of my lectures in a warmer part of the world.