Antarctica's wildlife: What you need to know

  • Antarctica offers some of the most compelling wildlife experiences you can find on the planet, on a par with the African savannah or the Galapagos Islands
  • The sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia is home to literally millions of penguins and seals, making it the perfect add-on for any natural history enthusiast
  • Unlike in most destinations, the animals of Antarctica are unafraid of humans, offering up some truly unprecedented encounters
  • As well as penguins, Antarctica offers superb whale-watching, particularly for humpbacks, minke whales and orcas
  • Highly trained naturalist guides on your ship give talks throughout the voyage as well as leading landings and zodiac cruises in situ
  • Whether you’re looking for newly-hatched penguin chicks or an extravagance of whales, Swoop’s expertise will help you find the best time for your trip
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Swoop says

Wildlife watching on an Antarctic cruise begins the moment you set sail, with graceful albatrosses accompanying your ship as you cross the Drake Passage. They're the perfect warm-up acts for one of the greatest wildlife destinations on the planet.

What wildlife experiences will I have on an Antarctic cruise?

Wildlife watching in Antarctica

Antarctic Wildlife

A gentoo penguin, one of Antarctica's most iconic species

Antarctica may be covered in ice and snow, but the rich waters of the Southern Ocean that surrounds it means that its coastline is teeming with life, especially around the Antarctic Peninsula, the region most accessible to visitors.

Penguin colonies (particularly some of the enormous gentoo penguin colonies) are one of the biggest highlights of any trip, whether you’re visiting in breeding season or when there are chicks on the nest. Leopard seals keep guard on the ice floes while skuas and other seabirds wheel overhead. Elsewhere elephant seals battle it out on the beach in the spring and fur seal pups explore the waves in late summer.

Along the coastline there are ample opportunities to see whales, especially late in the season: encounters peak in February and March when  fearless whales actively approach zodiacs and kayakers alike to politely enquir who the visitors are to their frozen kingdom.

Our best Antarctic wildlife voyages

Special Offers:Swoop has access to the widest range of offers and can help you find the right trip, cabin, & price.

Antarctic Peninsula Classic

Travelling on board this extremely comfortable ship, explore the highlights of the peninsula with a top class expedition team. Spacious cabins, delicious cuisine and optional adventure activities all help create this ideal marriage of comfort and…

  • 12-13 Days
  • $10,145
Antarctica, South Georgia & Falklands In Style

Voyage south in Shackleton’s footsteps, exploring the Southern Ocean's highlights as part of this expansive 20-day adventure. A well-balanced itinerary gives plenty of time in each jaw-dropping location. Explore from the comfort of your sleek purpose-built expedition ship, accompanied by…

  • 20 Days
  • $25,495
Original Fly & Cruise Expedition Cruise

Travel with the pioneers of fly & cruise Antarctic voyages, flying in both directions and bypassing a 2-day sail on the Drake Passage. Regular departure dates (Dec - Feb) to choose from. Explore Antarctica aboard a trusty 67 passenger expedition…

  • 8 Days
  • $11,495
Antarctic Basecamp Adventure

The ultimate Antarctic adventure, this trip is specifically for the active traveller. Spend 7 days kayaking, hiking, camping, mountaineering and snowshoeing, all included in the price. A medium-sized expedition ship acts as your floating ‘basecamp’. An excellent deal backed up…

  • 13 Days
  • $10,550
Crossing the Antarctic Circle

Spend 6 full days exploring Antarctica with the Polar Circle at 66 degrees south as your most southerly objective, on board one of the most exciting new vessels. A maximum of just 132 passengers, with spacious cabins, state-of-the-art technology and…

  • 13-14 Days
  • $16,195
Antarctic Explorer

The great strength of this trip is choice – a wide selection of departure dates and optional adventure activities available on a sleek purpose-built 138 passenger expedition ship. Spend four full days exploring Antarctica. Enjoy daily shore landings and zodiac…

  • 11 Days
  • $13,995
Quest for the Emperor Penguins of Snow Hill Island

The iconic emperor penguin is the goal of this expedition for wildlife enthusiasts, as your ice-strengthened ship sails into Antarctica’s challenging and little-visited Weddell Sea. Delve deep into historically significant and ice-laden waters, heading for the remote emperor rookery…

  • 11 Days
  • $12,100
Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctica Explorer

Start your adventure in Puerto Madryn, a mecca for southern right whales and then sail to the wildlife paradise of South Georgia, stopping off at the Falkland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula en route. This three week odyssey on a stylish…

  • 22 Days
  • $20,895
South Georgia & Falklands Wildlife Safari

With 8 full days exploring the wildlife meccas of South Georgia and the Falklands, this trip particularly appeals to wildlife enthusiasts and photographers. Travelling aboard a small custom-designed 100 guest expedition ship ensures extended time ashore each day. Further benefits…

  • 17 Days
  • $12,995

Wildlife watching in South Georgia

King Penguins in St Andrew's Bay, South Georgia

King Penguins in St Andrew's Bay, South Georgia

For anyone looking to turn their Antarctica trip into the ultimate wildlife experience, including South Georgia should be on the itinerary if at all possible. This sub-Antarctic island is commonly known as the Serengeti of the Southern Ocean for its unrivalled profusion of wildlife.

A trip here encompasses visits to king penguin colonies where the number of birds is counted in the hundreds of thousands, and beaches dense with fur seals and elephant seals. Cruising past albatross colonies brings home the vast numbers of seabirds who make this island home, while whales can frequently be spotted in its waters.

South Georgia is that most precious of things in the modern world: an ecosystem judged to be in full recovery. Seeing wildlife in such vast numbers after a visit to the rusting remains of its old whaling stations is a truly inspiring reminder of nature’s powers of recovery.

Expert naturalist guides

A naturalist guide with a passenger in Antarctica

A naturalist guide shares her Antarctic knowledge

Expert naturalists make up an essential part of the expedition guiding team that accompanies you throughout your Antarctic cruise. Most ships will have several naturalists on board as they recognise that they are a key part of the wildlife experience.

These guides truly are experts in their fields. Many join polar cruise ships after working in Antarctica as biologists or run their own wildlife watching business during the winter season. As well as giving educational talks during the voyage about the wildlife you'll encounter, they'll accompany you on all landings and zodiac cruises to explain more about what you're seeing. Their keen eyes are often the first to spot interesting wildlife to help you point your binoculars in the right direction.

Whether you're trying to work out what species of albatross is gliding off the ship's bow or trying to get to grips with how penguins behave in a tightly packed colony, your one on one conversations with the naturalist guides with enrich your Antarctic wildlife experience enormously.

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What our customers think of Antarctica's wildlife

Nature, wildlife trips beat every other travel experience, especially something as immersive as this. Read the full review

Travelled: March 2024

Alysha Vazirally - India

There was not just one memorable moment. It's absolutely incredible. Seeing all the penguins, seals and whales. The icebergs, especially in Wilhelmina Bay, made me feel like I was in the movie Avatar: The Way of Water. It was all totally amazing! Read the full review

Travelled: February 2024

Carol Forrest - USA

The gentoo, Adelie, and chinstrap penguins and their chicks were so cute and adorable. The birds, killer whales, and the humpback whales were so beautiful. The glaciers, floating ice, icebergs, blue sky and white clouds, the sunset, the rain, wind, and the snow, and the whole environment were all magical. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Janice Lo - USA

The scenery goes beyond what any photograph can show you. You have to experience it for yourself. It's also so cool to be able to walk around wildlife that, pretty much, ignores you and just goes about its daily life. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Joanne March - USA

As an environmentalist it made me appreciate the way organisations travelling to Antarctica are so very aware of their possible impacts to the environments and of the measures they take to ensure passengers and crew do not contaminate the environments in any way. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2024

Diane Luhrs - Australia

The outstanding numbers and varieties of penguins, seals and whales were amazing. The lectures on board enlightened our understanding of the polar ecosystem and were educational and entertaining. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2023

John Mark Bowles - USA

On one zodiac cruise we got to see a group of 4-5 humpback whales up close, and another we got to see several sleeping leopard seals. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2023

Leanne Matthews - USA

I really enjoyed the opportunity to see the various penguins in their natural habitat - I loved watching them waddle around, swim or just lay on the snow. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Dave Lo - USA

The zodiac cruise where we saw the leopard seal and it stayed playing with us for almost 1 hour. The empathy of the guide and her commitment and patience made this memorable meeting even more memorable. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Virginia De Francesco - Argentina

My expectations about the wildlife in Antarctica were blown away! We saw colonies of Adelie, gentoo, and chinstrap penguins. There was a whale sighting just about every day. We mainly found humpbacks, but saw a few minke whales and one afternoon we ran into a pod of killer whales! They must have been hunting or potentially practicing because we saw a group of humpbacks in the crowd and many seabirds checking out the scene. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Maricela Alaniz - USA

The wildlife was extraordinary. I could have watched the penguins for hours and my photos are wonderful but no substitute for observing the animals with my own eyes. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Rebecca Klein - USA

Amazing encounter? A leopard seal (penguin predator) was asleep on the beach at Whaler's Cove, and a couple of penguins walked right up to it, and one penguin poked it in the belly. Turns out penguins can outrun leopard seals on land - so the seal didn't even bother with the penguin. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Marg Macleod - Canada

The opportunities to see, hear, and move among the penguins, sea birds, seals, and whales was truly special. We learned so much, experienced so much it is hard to pick a favorite moment. Many truly 'close encounters.' Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Michael Cox - USA

Adelies at Brown Buff...doing the penguin march all along the beach, thousands all marching in the same direction.....something I will never forget. They were all so busy with their days work. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Deirdre Brown - UK

Being able to set foot on Antarctica almost twice a day was incredible, and my most memorable moment was visiting Brown Bluff and seeing thousands of penguins! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Joseph Gabriano - USA

The wildlife was so amazing. We saw an innumerable amount of penguins, whales, and seals. We got so many incredible images and videos of penguins with their “derpy” personalities. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Michael Bucher - USA

Stepping on the continent and being surrounded by penguins. The beauty of the landscape was something we’ve never seen before. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Sarah Moore - USA

I had no idea penguins were so dirty! But in the water there was a joy in their swimming. That was a treat as was seeing whales and orcas. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Deborah Lindsay -

The wildlife we saw on a daily basis was more than we could have imagined. From the varieties of penguins, seals, whales and birds we were able to be feet away from these incredible animals. One of my favorite encounters was on a zodiac cruise where we had 6 humpbacks breaching close to us. The crew also made sure we were respectful to the wildlife’s space and regulations for Antarctica. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Alyson Winemberg - USA

Penguins are one of the funniest animals and thieves I have ever seen! Whale sightings from the deck and Zodiac boats was one of the best and top listings on my bucket list. Thanks! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Steve Rimel - USA

Walking among our first gentoo colony and seeing how clumsy they are on land but graceful they are in the water - and the sun was shining, it felt so warm that everyone was stripping off their layers! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Alison Kubinski - USA

Wildlife is that, wild, you can't plan it, but Antarctica is a great place that gives you good chances to encounter wildlife. We were lucky to encounter whales (orcas, minkes, humpbacks), seals (elephant, leopard), penguins (gentoo, Adelie, etc.) and many birds. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Christian Cancino Martinez - USA

Most memorable moment was watching a leopard seal capture, kill and devour a gentoo penguin. Very sad but survival of the fittest. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Gerry Garber - USA

We’ve been to Alaska several times, as well as Africa and some of the great deserts, but this is a different kind of awe inspiring experience…really impossible to grasp…even with prior research. Favorite encounters were watching the penguins from a respectful distance…..amazing. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Joe Brubaker - USA

Most memorable moment: it’s a tie between: a leopard seal trying to mate with our boat, the polar plunge, and the wonderful friends I made. Read the full review

Travelled: March 2022

Kiera Rumbough - USA

The wildlife lectures were my favourite and one on krill stands out as I didnt think it could be so interesting. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Sue Gatenby - UK

The wildlife was FANTASTIC. AWESOME. INCREDIBLE. Did not see orcas but did see 5 species of whales. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Alison Collins - Canada

Best encounter with penguins was the final day. If you sat down, some of the more curious youngsters would come up to you and check you out. Made for some memorable pictures. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Tom Hoster - USA

We were very lucky on the trip. Saw large numbers of all three of the bristletail penguins in colonies and elsewhere. Likewise, we saw tons of whales. Great sightings of seals of all types: leopard, elephant, crabeater, Weddell and fur. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2022

Mark Golan - USA

Most memorable moment: hard to choose just one! Penguins swimming underwater en masse. A huge, unusually large pod of orca feeding. The magnificent mountain peaks and sunlit valleys beneath them, and on and on. Truly something I will remember every day of my life! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Kent Kimball - USA

Saw three penguin species, three species of seals, plus humpback, fin and minke whales. Birds galore as well. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Mike Walcher - USA

It was amazing to be able to see penguins and other birds, plus seals up-close on the excursions. We also saw lots of wildlife from the ship. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Claire Torrey - USA

The feeding humpback whales encounter was spectacular. Seeing the three difference types of penguins in such close proximity was amazing. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Mohit Kallianpur - USA

Our guide, Steffie, told us to put down our cameras when we were on an outing on the zodiac, and just listen! It was surreal - the peace that surrounded us, the sound of the whales, blowing through their blowhole, the water lapping around us - I realized, I have not actually been listening for years! Read the full review

Travelled: February 2020

Rosarii Nuala Falvey - United States Of America

The humpback whales in Charlotte Bay, they were ALL around us in our little Zodiac! Absolutely epic experience! Read the full review

Travelled: February 2020

Patty Hunt - United States Of America

Our favourite encounters were the whales near us while kayaking. Penguins & close encounters with seals were also great. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2020

Tracey Coleman - Australia

Nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to wildlife and when it comes to trips like this, it's hard to tick everything off the 'must see' list. With this in mind, I decided that I'd just be happy with whatever we came across. It just so happened that we got really lucky in seeing the rare Ross seal (so rare that none of the staff or crew had ever seen one before!), orcas, humpback whales leopard, crabeater, Wendell, elephant seals and 3 different species of penguins. Couldn't have asked for more! Read the full review

Travelled: February 2020

Kirstin Jen - Thailand

Penguins and whales and seals and albatrosses offered themselves up for some phenomenal pictures. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Rex - Len Hunt - United States Of America

The wildlife was more than I could have ever dreamed. The first day we were surrounded by over 20 + humpback whales breaching and feeding in Fournier bay. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Katie Salva - United States Of America

The Zodiac rides were safe (aided by calm seas) and usually took us to places that we couldn't travel to on the ship. I especially liked it when the guides took us out a little further to see if there was any new wildlife that we could interact with. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Steve Kelemen - United States Of America

Loved it! We saw lots of penguins, whales, and some seals! We got more and better pictures than expected :) Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Kayla Kissane - United States Of America

Now I can tell the difference between Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adelie Penguins! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Filip Lievens - Belgium

Getting to see so much unique wildlife up close was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, aside from the amazing landscapes. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Mark Jongewaard - United States Of America

The expedition staff far surpassed all my expectations. My favourite moment was just sitting with the penguin colonies and watching them interact with each other. An absolutely incredible experience! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Jill Pickett - United States Of America

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Most memorable moment was seeing penguins for the first time as we were on the mountaineering walk. Chinstrap penguins - they were so close! 🥰 Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Sarah Gillett - Switzerland

We saw four types of whales, three types of penguins, and four types of seals. Not to mention tons of ocean birds. We have so many amazing pics and videos! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Nancy Jones - Canada

We were lucky to have 11 excursions and all were wonderful. My favourite was my personal encounter with a Minke Whale, who spent 30 minutes among our zodiacs and came up close enough for me to see eye to eye! A baby penguin biting my boot was fun as well. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2019

Deborah Merickel - United States Of America

The highlight was probably seeing humpback whales breaching the water. The landscapes and wildlife were fantastic and we were able to get very close to whales, penguins, seals and sea birds. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2019

Brian Murphy - United Kingdom

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My wife and I were amazed at the amount of wildlife we got to experience (Adelie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap penguins; Leopard, Crabeater, Weddell and Elephant seals; Humpback whales and a pod of over 20 Orcas that swam right by the ship). Read the full review

Travelled: December 2018

Terrie Mandina - United States Of America

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We loved the antics of the penguins and the curiosity of the chicks. Up close viewing of seals and whales was awe inspiring. Our outstanding leaders helped to deepen our understanding and appreciation of this amazing world.

Travelled: February 2018

Sue - Australia

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The extraordinary landscapes and phenomenal wildlife were highlights of the trip. I fell in love with penguins, and can't get enough of them.

Travelled: December 2017

Susan & Jay - Washington

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Seeing the landscape and the animals: simply unmatched; unperturbed, unadulterated, and pristine.

Travelled: December 2017

Yiheli - Chile

The stark beauty of Antarctica really opened my eyes to this part of the world. We were able to see numerous types of penquins, two types of whales, many seals, etc. And seeing the chicks was a highlight for me.

Travelled: December 2017

Karen & Kristen - Nevada

The Antarctic was amazing and the cruise delivered everything promised. The highlight was the wildlife. We saw penguins, seals and three types of whales. The landscape is absolutely stunning.

Travelled: November 2017

Jennifer - UK

Antarctica exceeded my expectations and each day was a new adventure, often seeing thousands of penguins and seals and beautiful glaciers.

Travelled: March 2017

Oscar - Massachusetts

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We were privileged to see a large pod of humpback whales in a feeding frenzy one evening; the captain stopped the ship for an hour or so and the whales were feeding all around us.

Travelled: February 2017

Steve and Tina - UK

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The Captain spotted about 25 whales corralling, and circled these animals for about an hour for our enjoyment.

Travelled: February 2017

Patricia - Canada

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As a bird watcher and photographer, the penguins were the standout act, followed by the landscapes, and ice. I had wondered about the point of visiting the Falklands but after visiting the black-browed Albatross colony I quickly became enchanted.

Travelled: February 2017

Grahame - Australia

It was amazing. The wildlife was endless and the highlight was probably seeing 30 whales bubble feeding right in front of our zodiacs.

Travelled: February 2017

Bertie & Jessica - UK

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The trip was exceptional! One of the things I most enjoyed and was a surprise to me was hearing a leopard seal singing into an iceberg underwater! I didn't know they did that, and it was such a beautiful sound.

Travelled: January 2017

Colette - UK

Very happy with the wildlife we saw - the best thing was the killer whales hunting a seal by creating waves and breaking the ice from below.

Travelled: November 2016

Anna - UK

The king penguins on Salisbury Plain were something I've never experienced before - unbelievable; the wildlife was fantastic.

Travelled: March 2016

Glyn - UK


Antarctica wildlife guide


Antarctic Wildlife

Chinstrap penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula

Brimming with personality and thoroughly undaunted by the humans that have travelled so far to see them, penguins are the undisputed scene stealers across Antarctica and South Georgia, especially when seen in noisy and smelly colonies, thousands of birds strong.

The Antarctic Peninsula offers three main species. Gentoo penguins, Adelie penguins and chinstrap penguins are all found here in large numbers, though if it’s the imposing emperor penguin you’re after, you’ll need to head to the Weddell Sea or even further south to the Ross Sea.

To add king penguins to the list, add South Georgia to your itinerary: their enormous colonies here are one of nature’s greatest spectacles. While there, you’ll also be able to spot the foppish-looking macaroni penguin, along with rockhopper and Magellanic penguins when you call in at the Falkland Islands.

The type of penguin encounters varies according to when you visit. In November you’ll catch plenty of mating behaviour, as well as penguins looking their finest against the still-fresh snow. Chicks start to arrive in late December, at their fluffiest in January and starting to fledge by February. If you want to guarantee penguin chicks no matter when you travel, consider adding South Georgia to your itinerary, where king penguin chicks are present throughout the year.


Antarctic Wildlife

Humpback whale

Watching whales at close quarters is perhaps one of the most exciting wildlife experiences you can have anywhere in the world. The fact that such encounters can be commonplace in a region like Antarctica where they were so brutally hunted throughout the 20th century makes it even more special.

Humpbacks are the whales most often seen in Antarctica, followed by the much smaller minke whale. Both of these are often seen close to shore in the Peninsula. While at open sea, look out for fin whales – and keep your fingers crossed for rarer species like blue whales and sei whales. Humpbacks are increasingly seen in the waters around South Georgia: incredibly, the population here has almost completely recovered to its pre-whaling numbers. 

If whales are high on your wish list, you’ll want to choose your travel time carefully. Sightings are less frequent in the early season while whales are still migrating south from the tropics, so travel after Christmas to increase the frequency of sightings. February through to the end of the season offers the very best encounters: humpbacks and minkes full of krill become curious and playful at this time, and it’s not unknown for them to approach tourists in zodiacs and kayaks: a close encounter you’ll never forget.

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Ian says

It's one thing to see a whale from a distance, but it's another thing entirely to smell and taste it in the air when it surfaces right next to your zodiac!

Ian Young Antarctic Sales Manager


Leopard seal on an ice floe

Leopard seal

Seals hauled out on an ice floe present a sight almost as iconically Antarctic as a group of waddling penguins. Weddell seals, crabeater seals and leopard seals are all commonly encountered. Leopard seals are usually found wherever there are penguin colonies to provide them with a meal – they’re highly inquisitive and often check out tourists cruising in a zodiac.

In the north of the Peninsula around the South Shetland Islands you’ll also find plenty of southern elephant seals and Antarctic fur seals – the pups of the latter, which appear in the new year, are a particularly delightful sight.

Both of these species also abound in South Georgia. That island is home to perhaps as many as five million fur seals: an astonishing number when you realise they were once hunted almost to extinction for their pelts. At the height of the breeding season in November the density of fur seals on the beach can sometimes make it impossible to land – though you’ll certainly get close enough in a zodiac to catch the sweaty locker-room smell of the males defending their territory.

Albatrosses and other seabirds

Wandering albatross on the Drake Passage

Wandering albatross

One of Antarctica’s under-rated wildlife highlights is spending time out on the deck of your ship birdwatching (as well as keeping an eye out for whales). Watching the seabirds that so effortlessly whirl and glide around your ship from the moment you set sail can be an almost meditative experience.

The species that most people want (and usually get) to see is the wandering albatross, the world’s largest flying bird, that can cross oceans with barely a flick of its wings. Alongside it, look out for black-browed albatross and light-mantled (or sooty) albatross, two of the prettiest seabirds in the Southern Ocean.

Your onboard ornithology guide will help you identify the myriad varieties of petrels, prions, skuas and fulmars you’ll encounter as well as leading groups when you’re on shore.

If your itinerary includes South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, you may also get the opportunity of visiting albatross colonies and (if you visit late in the season) see chicks on the nest.

Protecting Antarctica's wildlife

Antarctic landing in a gentoo penguin colony maintaining strict IAATO guidelines

Protecting wildlife during a landing in Antarctica

To protect Antarctica’s wildlife, strict guidelines are in place that all visitors must follow during a landing or zodiac cruise. These guidelines have been developed by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) to avoid any possible harmful impacts on wildlife populations during a visit. Swoop is proud to be an associate member of IAATO and we encourage all our guests to familiarise themselves with their guidelines before travelling.

The most important rules are to always maintain a safe distance and to always give wildlife the right of way. Keep a minimum of 5m between you and any animal. No one seems to have told the penguins this rule and their natural curiosity means they’ll often approach you, so be prepared to safely and quietly retreat. If your presence is causing an animal to change its behaviour, you’re too close and should move away. Always give animals the right of way: don’t walk on the natural highways used by penguins, and never get between an animal and the sea.

Your guides will remind you of how to behave when you’re out in the field. By sticking carefully to these guidelines, we can take pride in ensuring that our visits to this beautiful and fragile environment leaves nothing but footprints.

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Swoop says

In order for Antarctica's wildlife to thrive, IAATO, an organisation founded to protect and promote environmentally responsible travel to Antarctica, has set up a list of rules when visiting Antarctica, one of which requires visitors to maintain a distance of 5 metres from penguins.

Antarctic wildlife FAQs

  • When is the best time to see Antarctica's wildlife?

    Antarctica's wildlife experience changes throughout the season so there's no 'best time' to visit as you'll enjoy amazing encounters whenever you travel. Travelling early in the season offers busy penguin colonies displaying breeding behaviour, high season brings penguin chicks, while late season is the peak time for whale encounters.

    For a month-by-month guide to what the wildlife will be doing during your visit, see our page about the best time to visit Antarctica.

  • How close to the wildlife do you really get?

    Very close! Antarctica's wildlife has no fear of people so the challenge isn't getting close to wildlife, it's giving them enough space. It's not uncommon to find yourself being approached by a curious penguin or a fur seal pup full of false bravado.

    To avoid disturbing the wildlife and to maintain important biosecurity rules, you must keep a distance of 5m from wildlife at all times, and 10m from the edge of penguin colonies. If an animal approaches you, slowly move away. Remember that wildlife in Antarctica always has the right of way and if anything you do causes an animal to change their behaviour, you're too close and should quietly move away.

  • Do all ships have naturalists on board?

    Absolutely. On board you'll find a variety of guides with a wealth of wildlife experience to tell you more about the animals you're seeing – both while you're on shore and during dedicated talks on the ship. Expert guides are an integral part of the expedition cruise experience, so don't be surprised if your guides have a background in scientific research in the region as well as working with tourists.

  • How much time is spent on shore for wildlife photographers?

    Antarctica is something of a wildlife photographer's paradise so it attracts a higher than usual proportion of travellers who are seriously dedicated to their cameras. Landings are always planned to maximise your time on shore. Many ships will also have their own photography guide on board who are there to help you capture your best shot. 

  • I want to see penguin chicks – when should I visit?

    Visitors to Antarctica in the early season will see lots of breeding and nesting behaviour among penguins, but the chicks don't typically hatch until the very end of December (in time for Christmas!) and throughout January. From this time you'll see lots of chicks, growing fatter and becoming more curious about their environment until the end of the tourist season when they're getting ready to fledge in time for winter. 

    South Georgia is a notable exception: due to the curiously long 14-month breeding cycle of the king penguin, you'll see wooly brown chicks in the penguin colonies here whatever time of year you visit. 

  • When should I travel for the best whale watching?

    You can see whales at any time through the Antarctic season, but the numbers of sightings typically increase as the season progresses. At the start of the season in November many whales are migrating south from the tropics to their polar feeding grounds. Conversely, by the close of the season in February and March they'll have spent a summer happily gorging on krill and will often approach zodiacs out of curiosity now their hunger has been sated. 

Why our customers love Swoop

The Antarctic Experts.
No Compromises

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Our team has visited Antarctica over 150 times and has 100 collective years of polar experience, so from which trip is right for you to what shoes to bring - there’s no question we can’t answer.

Expert impartial advice at no extra cost

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Choosing the right voyage is complicated, Swoop makes it easy. We offer no-nonsense advice on 1500 voyages across 30 ships to find you the right trip, cabin, price - and we don’t charge a fee.

The only B Corp certified Antarctic specialist

Ends Of The Earth SVG

We want to protect Antarctica for future generations - which is why we became a certified B Corp and set up our own conservation fund. So your adventures can be a force for good.

A full concierge service, unlike booking direct

With You SVG

We leave nothing to chance in delivering your perfect trip and have over 6500 happy travellers to show for it. With a dedicated Antarctic co-ordinator & support throughout - you’re in safe hands.

Discover Antarctica

Magellan Explorer Ship

Antarctic Cruise Ships

We work with a range of different Antarctic vessels, with expertise across the entire polar fleet, to give give you the best choice of ship, cabin and departure date. 

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Ready to plan your Antarctic adventure?



We'll spend some time listening to your aspirations, then discuss the kind of experience that might suit you.



Next we'll discuss the options, shortlist the best trips for you and present you our impartial recommendations.



We'll place a 24 hour hold on your preferred option - without obligation - whilst we talk through the details.

With over 100 years of Antarctic experience between us, we can help guide you to exactly the right trip for you.