When the annual Ross Sea ice melts this area comes alive with lots of wildlife, especially at the edge of the ice shelf (which doesn’t melt). Adelie and Emperor penguins come out and can be seen just about anywhere… even walking right down the center of McMurdo Station! In addition to the penguins, the melting ice attracts more seals and both Minke and Orca (Killer) whales. They are all looking for food and since they are mammals, they need air to breathe. The ice edge has a lot of wildlife activity and Orcas will come to hunt Minkes, seals, and sometimes a penguin. The Orcas live together in Pods that span many generations. They are amazing animals and will start communicating with their young when they are still in the mother’s womb. The scientists that study them say that their communication and ability to transfer knowledge between generations actually rivals humans! When you watch them hunt in packs and look for seals sitting on ice floes you will believe it. They are highly intelligent.
The Minke whales are plankton eaters and are also pretty curious. They will poke their heads out of the water and look at you if you are on the ice edge. The penguins and seals are sometimes curious too and have been known to just walk, or waddle, up to you. It seems they all like to sleep a lot!
A Minke whale cruising the ice edge with some sleepy seals in the background.
A pod of Minke whales getting ready to dive under the ice near the pressure ridges. The pressure ridges are caused by the ice shelf pressing against a land mass and causing the ice to buckle. There are almost always seals nearby due to the cracks that are formed.
Some sleepy Adelie penguins basking in the sun at Hut Point, McMurdo Station. They come ashore to escape the seals and whales that might want to eat them. These ones are just getting ready to molt.
Cute Adelie penguins sleeping on Hut Point in McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
Emperor penguins just starting to molt. During the molting process they will replace their feathers and won’t enter the water because they are won’t be waterproof and would get cold. Molting can take up to a month. They get nice and fat before the molt because they won’t be able to eat or catch fish until their new coat of feathers is ready for swimming.
Emperor penguins that are molting. You can see they are starting to lose feathers on their backs. Emperor penguins are very large compared to Adelies and can measure up to about 3 feet tall when standing up straight. They don’t have any land predators so they just hang out and watch you take pictures of them. Sometimes they will approach you when they are curious.
An Emperor penguin hanging out on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica.