Best time to see whales in Antarctica

Whales are some of the largest and most fascinating mammals in the world. Wildlife observers are endlessly fascinated by the sight of whales emerging from the depths of the ocean. Whale watching is a popular activity throughout the world, and observing the various whale species in the Southern Ocean is one of the most enticing allures to Antarctica.
 
The Antarctic Peninsula is a 1,300-km stretch of frozen land dominating the Southern Ocean. Home to thousands of exotic and rarely seen birds and animals, the continent is a remote gem that remains one of the truly unexplored frontiers. Vast stretches of Antarctica have rarely been visited by humans.
 
Off the shores of the mainland and swimming near glaciers and frozen islands across the south seas are pods of whales that make their home in the cold waters. At the right time of year, adventurers can board ships like the technologically advanced Ultramarine to sail through the frigid waters and witness the gathering of mammals as they cavort in the cold water. In fact, some adventurers will kayak off the coast of Antarctica for a closer look at whales in their natural environment.

Humpback whales are the most abundant baleen whales in the waters surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula.
Photo: Quark Expeditions

How many species of whales are there in Antarctica?

Whales, frequently in pods but on their own as well, often travel thousands of miles to hunt for food, lay eggs, or raise newborns. But some whales prefer colder ocean waters that are prominent in Antarctica, which are the highlights of any seafaring excursion through the area.
 
According to the World Wildlife Federation, the most common types of whales found in Antarctica are:
  • Killer whales (orcas)
  • Humpback whales
  • Sperm whales
  • Southern right whales
  • Sei whales
  • Fin whales
  • Antarctic minke whales
  • Antarctic blue whales

A pod of orca whales in the Antarctic. Photo: Meena Joshi

Why do whales go to Antarctica?

Part of the reason for the popularity of whales in the Southern Ocean is that fewer whale hunters explore the colder regions near Antarctica. Some whale populations are dangerously low in number, an indication of how overfishing is depriving the ocean of aquatic life and natural food chains. Antarctica is scarcely inhabited or even visited by humans, which makes it an ideal habitat for whales to escape the dangers of zealous hunters.
 
However, whales also prefer the Southern Ocean during the summer months of the year because of the vast amount of untouched marine life found along the frigid shores. As natural predators, whales hunt for smaller sea creatures to nourish their bodies and feed the younger members of their pods. Given that relatively few human ships reach the shores of Antarctica, it’s safer for marine wildlife. A healthy pod of whales can reach numbers of up to 30 whales.

What do whales eat in Antarctica?

Orcas are also called killer whales in part because they also eat other types of whales. When swimming through the Antarctic Ocean, orcas are known to eat a variety of marine life, including the rarely seen King Penguins that frequent the shores of Antarctica. They’ll also help themselves to seals, fish, and smaller whales like the minke whales that swim through the ocean depths. And many feed on krill, thousands of tiny crustaceans.
Best time to see whales in Antarctica
 
In the southern hemisphere, the summer months range from March through May, and March is the recommended time of year to witness whales swimming off the shores of Antarctica.
 
That’s why it’s the optimal time to book passage on the Crossing the Circle: Southern Expedition voyage into the Southern Ocean. This 14-day adventure takes guests across the very tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and across the famed Antarctic Circle. Along the way, they’ll have opportunities to witness whales emerging from the ocean depths in pods near the coast, and or they can book a Zodiac cruise which is ideal for taking amazing photos.
Whale watching cruise
 
Another great opportunity to witness whales in their unabashed glory is by joining the Antarctic Express: Crossing the Circle voyage. This 11-day adventure begins in Patagonia and takes you through destinations like King George Island, the South Shetland Islands, and across the Antarctic Circle itself.
 
Along the way, you’ll have your captain and experienced expedition team leaders scout for whales emerging from the ocean depths. Just imagine what it would be like to line up your cameras and video recorders to capture whales playing in the sea against the backdrop of the beautiful Antarctic landscape glistening under the bright sun. Such photographs will capture memories to last a lifetime.

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