Land and Ocean Life

Life On Land

Because of its severely harsh climate and natural environment, Antarctica is largely a lifeless continent. Plants are limited primarily to relatively small ice-free coastal areas during summer and consist mostly of mosses and liverworts. A few species of flowering plants, including several grasses, are found on the Antarctic Peninsula. Lichens grow on rocks and firm soil. There are no trees or shrubs. Most of the land animals are tiny arthropods, including mites, lice, springtails, and a wingless fly. All are dormant for most of the year.

Ocean Life

In sharp contrast to the land, the sea supports abundant life. Waters in the southern oceans are rich in nutrients and teem with plankton and krill, small shrimp-like crustaceans. Krill are perhaps the largest single source of natural protein in the world and are potentially of great commercial value.

Vertebrate animals that either live in or frequent the Antarctic region include whales, seals, and penguins and other sea-birds. Whales are generally more abundant in Antarctic waters than in other oceans. Most numerous are sperm, minke, fin, sei, blue, and humpback whales. Killer whales also roam the ocean. Among the seals found in the icy waters are crabeater, elephant, leopard, Ross, and Weddell seals.

The birds of Antarctica obtain their food from the sea. The penguin is the animal probably most symbolic of the continent. Adélie and emperor penguins live and breed in vast colonies along Antarctica's shores.

Petrels, albatrosses, skuas, gulls, terns, and other seabirds visit Antarctica during the brief summer. Some of the birds nest on the continent's rocky islands and shores, especially along the Antarctic Peninsula.