Life in the Polar Regions

by Oceanwide Expeditions Blog

Polar bears in the Arctic, penguins in Antarctica. That's all there is to it, right? Well, actually, no. There's a lot more to it. Though there appears to be less life in the polar regions than, say, anywhere else you can think of or imagine, there are in fact highly complex ecosystems within both the Arctic and Antarctica.
Life in the Polar Regions

Regions: Antarctica, Arctic

The particulars of life in the polar regions

Polar bears in the Arctic, penguins in Antarctica.

That's all there is to it, right?

Well, actually, no. There's a lot more to it.

Though there appears to be less life in the polar regions than, say, anywhere else you can think of or imagine, there are in fact highly complex ecosystems within both the Arctic and Antarctica. 

And if you're a wildlife lover like us, these ecosystems will give you much to admire.

Life in the Arctic

No doubt about it, the Arctic Ocean can be a hostile, stormy, brutally cold place. 

Nevertheless, it is teeming with life: humpback whales, minke whales, orcas (killer whales), narwhals, beluga whales, blue whales, sperm whales (nearer to Norway) and many other large sea mammals coexist in its deeper waters.

Meanwhile, toward the shallows of the shore (as well as inland) you can find walruses, multiple species of seal, and polar bears.

Providing food for the top Arctic predators is a complex food chain of plankton, fish, seabirds, and smaller land mammals: Arctic hares, Arctic foxes, and as mentioned, seals.

But even the largest animal the polar regions ultimately relies upon phytoplankton.

Small photosynthetic organisms that make up the foundation of the marine life food web, phytoplankton convert the energy from sunlight into chemical energy and store it as sugars, which is nutrient for larger life forms - namely, krill.

Phytoplankton feed krill, which in turn feed whales. 

Life in Antarctica

Compared to the Arctic, which includes the vast terrestrial territories of two continents, most of Antarctica's wildlife is centered around the sea - or along the extensive, icy shorelines.

This makes phytoplankton quite important to Antarctic animals.

During the Southern Hemisphere or austral summer (December - March), the extended hours of daylight in Antarctica allow phytoplankton to thrive.

In the winter, phytoplankton become trapped in the ice and grow on the underside of it, which affords krill food enough to survive until spring.

Once spring arrives in Antarctica, ice melts and creates a population boom of phytoplankton in open water.

This boom allows krill to multiply at astounding rates, which then allows whales, seals, and penguins to have a more or less steady food source.

The exact same process takes place in the Arctic.

And indeed, many of the same species of whale (except belugas) can be seen in Antarctica as in the Arctic, added to which are southern right whales, fin whales, and sei whales.

Antarctica is also home to seven species of penguin, four of which live on the Antarctic Continent (Adélie, emperor, chinstrap, gentoo) and three that live on the Antarctic or sub-Antarctic islands (king, macaroni, rockhopper).

Seeing wildlife in the polar regions 

Though the polar regions are highly variable in terms of weather, ice conditions, and consequently wildlife, getting the chance to see these exotic ecosystems is as simple as booking an Arctic trip vs. an Antarctica trip.

Arctic hotspots include Svalbard, northeast Greenland, and Iceland.

And at the other end of the planet, key Antarctic destinations include the Antarctic Peninsula, Weddell Sea, and seldom-visited Ross Sea.

Nobody can guarantee you'll see everything you want, of course, since nature calls the shots in the polar regions. But just being there is an experience in itself, and if you're lucky enough to see a surfacing blue whale or sauntering polar bear too, that's all the better!

Love this article? Share your appreciation:

Related cruises

Falkland Islands - South Georgia - Elephant Island - Antarctica - Polar Circle
Up to 1800 USD discount

Falkland Islands - South Georgia - Elephant Island - Antarctica - Polar Circle

Meet at least six penguin species

HDS31-20. This Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and Antarctic Peninsula cruise is an animal-lover’s dream come true. The expedition explores one of the last untamed areas on Earth – a land of ruggedly beautiful landscapes and amazingly varied wildlife. Including photo workshops with Massimo Bassano and video...

m/v Hondius

m/v Hondius

Cruise date:

24 Feb - 17 Mar, 2020

Price:

18500 USD 10900 USD 7600 USD discount

Antarctica - Whale watching discovery and learning voyage
Up to 2850 USD discount

Antarctica - Whale watching discovery and learning voyage

In search for the giants of the seas

HDS32-20. This Polar Circle and Antarctic Peninsula cruise will take you further south of Antarctica, crossing the Polar Circe. This expedition cruise passes through waters travelled by Humpback, Minke and Fin whales. Including photo workshops with Massimo Bassano and video workshops with Myriam Casper. Acous...

m/v Hondius

m/v Hondius

Cruise date:

17 Mar - 30 Mar, 2020

Price:

10450 USD 6250 USD 4200 USD discount

Antarctica - Polar Circle, Deep South Discovery voyage
Up to 1950 USD discount

Antarctica - Polar Circle, Deep South Discovery voyage

Whale watching voyage

OTL29-20. This Polar Circle and Antarctic Peninsula cruise will take you further south of Antarctica, crossing the Polar Circe. This expedition cruise passes through waters travelled by Humpback, Minke and Fin whales. Anchoring in various spots around the region, the expedition offers the chance to hike, and...

m/v Ortelius

m/v Ortelius

Cruise date:

18 Mar - 31 Mar, 2020

Price:

10450 USD 6250 USD 4200 USD discount

Antarctica - Whale watching voyage
Up to 2850 USD discount

Antarctica - Whale watching voyage

In search for the giants of the seas

PLA33-20. The 'Classic Antarctic' route. This cruise delivers you to wondrous landscapes found in one of the harshest environments on Earth. The great star-actors of Antarctica are the penguins and in total seven species could appear before your very own eyes.

m/v Plancius

m/v Plancius

Cruise date:

20 Mar - 29 Mar, 2020

Price:

on request

Antarctica - 'Basecamp'
Up to 4000 USD discount

Antarctica - 'Basecamp'

The best activity voyage in Antarctica

PLA31-20. The Antarctic Peninsula Basecamp cruise offers you a myriad of ways to explore and enjoy the Antarctic Region. This expedition allows you to hike, snowshoe, kayak, go mountaineering, and even camp out under the Southern Polar skies.

m/v Plancius

m/v Plancius

Cruise date:

27 Feb - 9 Mar, 2020

Price:

on request