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  • Photograph of King Penguins

    King Penguins on South Georgia by Nigel Wheatley.

    ANTARCTICA, SOUTH GEORGIA and the FALKLANDS

    Best Wildlife in Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands

    Mammals
    Humpback, Killer, Fin and Sei Whales, Commerson's, Hourglass and Peale's Dolphins, Southern Elephant Seal, Leopard Seal, Southern Sealion, Antarctic and South American Fur Seals, and Crabeater and Weddell Seals. Also a chance of Blue, Southern Right (mostly Oct-Nov), Southern Bottlenose, Cuvier's Beaked, Gray's Beaked and Antarctic Minke Whales. (Reindeer have been introduced to South Georgia).

    Photograph of Humpback Whale

    Humpback Whale in Antarctica by Marie-France Grenouillet.

    Birds
    Most of the landbirds listed can be seen in Tierra del Fuego NP near Ushuaia in Southern Argentina where cruises usually start and finish, or on the Falklands. King, Macaroni, (Southern) Rockhopper, Adelie, Chinstrap, Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins, Wandering, both Royal, Light-mantled, Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses, Antarctic and Snow Petrels, Magellanic Woodpecker, island endemics Falkland Steamer Duck, Cobb's (House) Wren and South Georgia Pipit, as well as Kelp, Ruddy-headed and Upland Geese, Great and Silvery Grebes, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Southern Fulmar, Blue, Pintado and White-chinned Petrels, Antarctic, Fairy and Slender-billed Prions, Black-bellied, Grey-backed and Wilson's Storm Petrels, Common, Magellanic and South Georgia Diving Petrels, Antarctic, Imperial, Rock and South Georgia Shags, Black-faced Ibis, Black-chested Buzzard Eagle, Striated and White-throated (Ushuaia Rubbish Tip) Caracaras, Snowy Sheathbill, Two-banded Plover, Rufous-chested Dotterel, Blackish and Magellanic Oystercatchers, South American Snipe, Dolphin Gull, Antarctic Tern, Brown (Antarctic), Chilean and South Polar Skuas, Blackish Cinclodes, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, White-throated Treerunner, Dark-faced Ground Tyrant, Austral Negrito, Patagonian Sierra Finch, Canary-winged Finch and Long-tailed Meadowlark. Also a chance of Andean Condor, Spectacled Duck, Atlantic, Grey, Kerguelen, Soft-plumaged and White-headed Petrels, White-bellied Seedsnipe and Yellow-bridled Finch (both Garibaldi Pass and Martial Glacier near Ushuaia), and an outside chance of Emperor Penguin.

    Other Natural Wonders of Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands

    Southern Ocean The roughest ocean on Earth is a stirring sight in such conditions, a scene completed by the seabirds which make light of high seas and strong winds.

    South Georgia A high, snowy mountain range in the middle of the Southern Ocean, 170 km (110 miles) long, and between 2 and 40 km (1.2 and 25 miles) wide. Above the numerous glaciers the sharp peaks rise to 2934 m (9626 ft).

    Antarctica Virtually the whole of the Antarctic continent is covered with ice, on average 3000 m (9800 ft) deep in the east, and much of the coastline is fringed with ice shelves about 200 m (650 ft) thick, pack ice and icebergs of every imaginable size and shape, so it is, more or less, completely picturesque, but some places are particularly picturesque and these include the 11 km (7 mile) long Lemaire Channel, an icy strait as narrow as 1600 m (5250 ft) in places, with walls up to 900 m (3000 ft) high. It is situated between the Antarctic Peninsula and Booth Island, which, ice conditions permitting, the cruises dealt with in this account, usually sail up and down, at almost the furthest south the ships can go.

    Best Sites for Wildlife in Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands

    Best Times for Wildlife in Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands

    Cruises run from November to March. On South Georgia bird and animal activity is usually at a peak in October-November when bull elephant seals fight for control of harems and there are new and weaned pups on the beaches, young Wandering Albatrosses are stretching their wings in readiness for their first flights, and the wild 'pee-ow' calls of Light-mantled Albatrosses can be heard. Chinstrap, Gentoo and Macaroni Penguins also arrive at this time. By mid-November most bull fur seals are back; there are so many of them now (probably over four million) that they cover virtually every beach, making visits to some penguin colonies quite tricky due to their willingness to bite anything that intrudes on their territories. Female fur seals usually have pups in early December. Leopard Seals are mainly winter visitors to South Georgia and the vast majority move south during the southern spring so the best chances of seeing them between November and March come when the ships reach the Antarctic mainland.

    South Georgia is not as cold as one might expect being so far south and close to Antarctica, and the average temperature at sea level between November and March is 7.5°C. However, when the wind picks up and blizzards blow, which happens frequently, it can feel much colder. Antarctica too is only really cold in such conditions, but it is often sunny and calm from November to March and, if suitably dressed, conditions can be surprisingly pleasant.

    Recommended Books etc. for Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands

    A Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife by H Shirihai. Helm, 2007 (Second Edition).

    Birds and Mammals of the Falkland Islands by R and A Woods. WildGuides, 2006.

    Field Guide to the Birds of Chile including the Antarctic Peninsula, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia by A Jaramillo. Helm, 2003.


    Apps etc.

    Antarctica Wildlife Guide.

    Trip Reports for Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands

    Many trip reports, some for Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands, are posted on the websites listed here. On some of these websites some reports are independent and some are posted by tour companies who organize tours to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands. These tour companies and others also post their own reports on their websites, which are listed under 'Some Organized Tours to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands' below.

    Local Guides and Tours in Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands

    The costs of organized tours partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ. If you are travelling independently, employing such local guides will greatly increase your chances of seeing the wildlife you wish to see.

    Accommodation in Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands

    Some Organized Tours to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands

    There are many tour companies who organize tours to see mammals, birds, other wildlife and other natural wonders. The cost of these tours vary considerably according to such variables as the airlines used, the number of days the tours last, the number of sites visited, the number of people in the group (an important consideration if you wish to see such wildlife as rainforest mammals and birds), the number of tour leaders, the standard of accommodation and transport, and the percentage profit the company hopes to make. Generally, where the number of days tours last and the number of sites visited are similar, the cheapest tours are those that use the cheapest airlines, accommodation and local transport, that have the largest groups with the least number of leaders, and that make the least amount of profit. The most expensive tours tend to be those which are exceptionally long, use the most expensive accommodation (ridiculously lavish in some cases, even for single nights) and which make the most profit. Some tour costs partly reflect the quality of the tour leaders. Some leaders are certainly better than others and many companies claim their leaders are the best but even the best rely at least to some extent on the exceptional skills of the local guides they employ.

    While tour companies organize tours with set itineraries many also organize custom tours for individuals and private groups who instead of taking a tour with a set itinerary want to follow their own itinerary to suit their own personal tastes, whether it be mammals, birds, other wildlife, other natural wonders or even man-made attractions, or a mixture of them all. Many organized tours with set itineraries are also fast-paced and target as many species as possible, whether they are mammals, birds or other wildlife or everything, which usually leaves little time to enjoy the best sites and individual species, but on a custom tour those taking part can specify the pace and the sites and species they wish to concentrate on. Custom tours also suit people who like to travel with people they already know, rather than with a group of strangers, and people with partners with different interests. Individuals and small groups will almost certainly have to pay more than the price of an organized tour with a set itinerary but a large group of friends may be able to travel for less than the price quoted for a set tour.

    The most expensive cruises to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands tend to be those on the largest and most lavish vessels where every cabin has private facilities, but it is the smaller vessels, with much smaller passenger numbers and mostly shared facilities, which enable greater and easier access to certain areas, and sometimes longer times ashore.

    Tour companies who run or organize cruises to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands include the following.