Awesome Marine Life in the Ocean Surrounding Antarctica

the southern ocean
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Awesome Marine Life in the Ocean Surrounding Antarctica

What comes to your mind when you hear the word Antarctica? Polar bears, seals, penguins, and largely desolate miles upon miles of deserted ice? Surely there has to be more than that to this fascinating region of the world. The answer swims in the ocean surrounding Antarctica!

Water encompasses Antarctica on all sides; the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans all meet at this point and together make up the Southern Ocean. Years ago, one wouldn’t even consider this region as a tourist location, but now, you’d be surprised. Each year, more than 400,000 tourists travel to the continent of Antarctica to enjoy all that it has to offer.

But why do these visitors flock to Antarctica in such large numbers?

The uniquely magical, incredibly awesome marine life hidden under the ice of the oceans surrounding Antarctica may be the reason. Often needing the cold temperatures to survive, these creatures may not be found anywhere else in the world. The oceans surrounding Antarctica may be the only place on the planet where you could witness these magnificent miracles of nature. What’s more, it’s often also been referred to as the most intact marine region of the world, incomparable to anywhere else. Still not convinced? Brief descriptions of these aquatic marvels may change your mind.  

More than 235 distinctive marine creatures have made their homes in the oceans surrounding Antarctica. Ranging in size from the tiniest microscopic bacteria to literal giants, they vary in appearance, diet, movement, color, etc. Read on, my friends, because these wonders of the world may as well be the reason you book your next holiday to this icy corner of the world real soon. Without further ado, here are the main categories of the remarkable marine life in the ocean surrounding Antarctica.  

Whales in the Ocean Surrounding Antarctica

While you’re on your luxurious Antarctic cruise ship, it’s quite definite that you will encounter a wide variety of whales from a safe distance. You’ve probably heard a lot about the blue whalethe largest in the world – now’s your chance to see it in person. A blue whale is so giant that a child could slide through its blood vessels (a concerning yet still impressive visual, we do admit).

Other whales include fin whales (the fastest in the world at 45 km/h), sperm whales, humpbacks, and fin whales, among many others.  

Seals in the Ocean Surrounding Antarctica

There are mainly four species of seals found in this region: the Leopard Seal, Southern Elephant Seal, the Weddel Seal, and the Crab Eater Seal. Although cute to the eyes, it’s best to maintain a distance from these dangerous predators. These seals are different from the ones you encounter at your local safari park. Of course, they’re more majestic looking, but also more deadly. A magnificent photo opportunity, though!

Fish Near Antarctica

Although not the most colorful fish in the ocean, the fish in these waters are still ecological wonders due to their ability to survive in the harsh cold. For this reason, they are even of interest to the non-scientifically inclined tourist.

There are about 300 documented fish in the region alone, all of them quite cleverly adapted to their living conditions. Besides those that are documented and described, hundreds of non-described fish swim in these waters as well. The vast majority of snailfish make up this second category.

Examples of fish to especially look out for are snailfish, cod icefish (which are so unique that they deserve their own heading), and eelpouts. These form the bulk of Antarctic Ocean fish. Other species include hagfish, lamprey, skates, pearlfish, and some flounder.

About a quarter of these species are native only to the oceans surrounding Antarctica and cannot be observed in any other body of water in the world. It’s definitely worth it to travel to these parts in order to see these creatures defy circumstances and thrive under below freezing conditions. They mostly do this by keeping away from the surface of the water; however, due to the advancements of technology, tourists may observe them in their natural habitat.


Cod icefish is a suborder of fish that contains quite a few different species. These fish look very unusual with their varied face shapes and translucent colors, but what makes them extremely special is their ability to survive the harsh cold by manufacturing antifreeze proteins in their body. These extraordinary proteins attack any ice entering these fish’s organs, preventing them from being frozen alive!

Another survival tactic is these fish’s long lifespans; cod icefish can survive for over 45 years and thus have nothing on your pet goldfish. What’s even more impressive is that these fish are by far the largest in the Southern ocean, they can grow up to 2 m long, which is about the height of a very tall man, and can weigh almost a 100 kg. Their sheer size alone is enough to draw gasps from excited onlookers.  

The gasps don’t stop there, though. Wait for a tour guide to reveal that these brilliant species don’t contain or manufacture any hemoglobin, and the gasps resurface. Hemoglobin is the pigment that makes blood red. Without it, the blood of these fish is translucent white in color! But don’t harm the poor creatures in order to see it, though; luckily for you, the hemoglobin-less nature of the fish is evident in their gills, which are translucent and white instead of being wine-ish red, like most other fish.


Fish aren’t the only creatures inhabiting the oceans surrounding Antarctica though; look a little deeper, and you’ll see arthropods, which is just a fancy name for these insect-like creatures. You read that right! Insect-like. So if spiders give you the heebie-jeebies, you might want to skip this section entirely.

Now that we have the weak bellies out of the way, let’s get down to the gnarly (but still magnificent, as promised) details. The most abundant of these creatures is the krill. These krills gather in swarms of 30000 per one cubic meter, making the water blood red! This is an oceanic marvel that’s worth setting your eyes upon.  

An exceptionally cool fact about these little guys is that in winter, when food is scarce, they’re able to set their timelines behind by a few years, becoming infants once more and using their own bodily materials for nutrition. How’s that for hardcore!

Another sick phenomenon to look out for is the brood pouch in which a lot of these creatures raise their eggs. The brood pouch is like a pocket or chamber in their bodies where they can keep their eggs safe. The end result looks like it’s right out of an alien sci-fi movie.

Other striking arthropods include sea spiders and sea crabs. These have the ability to grow up to a meter long. Yikes! As if the nightmares at your local beach weren’t big enough. Don’t worry, though, your tour guide will be sure to assist you in observing these giants up close and safely.

Spider Crabs in the Ocean Surrounding Antarctica

Spider crabs earned themselves a bad reputation when they were first observed. It was believed that these were a new species of predator, attempting a hostile takeover of the oceans surrounding Antarctica, a true threat to the impressive marine life present there.

Further research, however, revealed that instead of being invaders, these crabs were actually survivors! They had existed in these parts for millennia. However, they had only recently been discovered. This definitely makes one wonder what other species may be hidden in this ecological haven. What will you discover on your own trip to the Antarctic?  


Mollusks include large invertebrates (lacking a backbone) such as slugs, snails, and octopi. There are quite a few of these bad boys living in the oceans surrounding Antarctica in tunnels or on the surface. Some say that there are about 70 different species of these mollusks settled in the region. That’s enough to keep a marine enthusiast occupied for days.

The award for the biggest invertebrate in the world goes to the Colossal Squid, another resident of the Southern Ocean. This giant of a giant can grow up to a whopping 46 feet, which is the approximate height of three two-story houses stacked on top of each other. Perhaps HP Lovecraft was on a trip to Antarctica and was inspired by the Colossal Squid when he wrote his story about the world-famous sea monster, Cthulhu. The very possibility of encountering this ecological wonder is enough to make me want to pack my bags and leave for the Antarctic ASAP!

For the (boring) faint of heart who would like nothing to do with the Colossal Squid, there are, thankfully, quite a few other species that inhabit the Southern Ocean as well. These include the Antarctic Flying Squid and the Warty Squid, among many others. Talk about tentacle heaven. 

Sea Urchins

What the fish in the ocean surrounding Antarctica lack in color, the sea urchins more than make up for. The red sea urchin, with its description in the name, has, in fact, been used as a model organism, which means that a lot of the biological knowledge we have right now is because of the sea urchin. A model organism is an entity used by scientists to study natural phenomena. Does the scientist in you not itch to visit this region? You would be delighted to know that there are many other species of sea urchins, in quite a few different colors!


Antarctic sponges are extremely sensitive to the environment around them, making them good indicators of the region’s health. A healthy sea sponge equals a healthy Antarctic! Thus named because its shape resembles that of a volcano, the most gigantic arctic sponge is the giant volcano sponge. It can reach up to a height of 6 and a half feet, a sponge as big as an exceptionally tall man. Find out if you can take any pictures featuring this volcano by speaking to your tour guide.  

Another fun fact about these sponges is that they have quite long lifespans, some of a suggested 15000 years. This makes these sponges older and most ancient than anything you have ever witnessed before.


Salps are barrel-shaped forms of plankton that move in quite exciting ways; they do so by contractions causing movement of water throughout their body. A great reason to visit the oceans surrounding Antarctica is to witness these amazing creatures moving. Who knows, you might even be allowed to swim among them!

Marine Worms

Among the worms found in the ocean surrounding Antarctica, two species are the most common. Marine worms belonging to these species can grow up to 6 feet in length, more snake than worm if you ask me.

Smaller worms are quite mesmerizingly adapted to their environment. They can receive their required amounts of oxygen merely by absorbing it through their skin. They get their nutrition from dead creatures, waste, etc. It’s quite satisfying – and gruesome too – to watch these creatures feed. Definitely a cool tour activity for the weirdo in your life (even if that weirdo is you. Hey, we don’t judge!).

Algae in the Ocean Surrounding Antarctica

The fun doesn’t stop there for the plant (sort of) enthusiast. The ocean surrounding Antarctica is home to hundreds of species of algae, all in varying shapes, colors, and sizes. There are about 700 different kinds of seaweed in the Antarctic alone!

Another example is snow algae, which only bloom in the summer. These kinds of algae make their environment appear green, yellow, and red—a proper slime rainbow. Like algae, plankton blooms in the summer and spring, too, before disappearing as the winter approaches. This is why (besides the apparent cold factor), it’s a good idea to plan your trip to the Antarctic for the spring and summer months.

Another record broken by the extraordinary marine life in the ocean surrounding Antarctica is that of mightiest kelp in the world. This kelp can grow up to an extreme of 66 feet, that’s as long as 11 men of above-average height stacked one on top of the other. Such lengths can only be encountered in this magical region of the world.

Feather Stars and Other Starfish

No post about marine life can be complete without the addition of a starfish – or at least something like this. The feather star, named after the expedition that discovered it, is unique in the sense that it has ten rays at the bottom of its actual arms. This gives it the appearance of being huge and – excuse the expression – feathery! Similar to the feather star is the basket star whose limbs look like the wooden branches of a basket.

Another creature straight from the Lovecraftian mythos is a two-foot-wide sea star by the name of Labidiaster annulatus. Complete with claws and pincers, it’s a formidable predator that thrives in the water surrounding Antarctica. Watching this beastly beauty in action could be one of the many attractions of this region.

There are quite a few different species of sea stars glittering in these oceans. Known collectively as an asteroid, they make the Southern Ocean a little piece of the cosmos on Earth. They have also had numerous books written about them. Grab one before your tour to know more about these beauties!


Seahorses gallop through the waters of the Southern Ocean, just like with all other large bodies of water. In fact, the potbelly seahorse can only be found in the oceans surrounding Antarctica. Don’t blame the poor creature when it reminds you to cut back on the carbs – the abdomen of these seahorses is distended outwards. But don’t worry! It isn’t caused by poor diet or illness (or too much beer, like in your Uncle Sam’s case), this is just the way Mother Nature intended them to be. These water steeds come in shades of brown, orange, yellow, and purple with unique black spots on their bodies. Yee-haw!

These aren’t the only marine creatures that can be found inhabiting the waters of the oceans surrounding Antarctica. Other underwater majesties include sea pigs and comb jellies. As these above examples demonstrate, the waters of the Southern Ocean are teeming with life; from whales and seals to crabs and spiders, to fish and sponges, these waves have it all. But not just that, these waters have what other oceans don’t; hundreds of species like the pot belly seahorse can only be found in the ocean surrounding Antarctica and nowhere else.

Without a doubt, the Southern Ocean is teeming with life that has until now been alien to us, making it one of the most ecologically exciting tourist destinations in the world. Photographers, sightseers, amateur marine aficionados, there’s something there for everyone. Want to hop on a cruise to witness these miracles of life ASAP? You’re not the only one! So what are you waiting for? You even have a comprehensive guide to all the awesome marine creatures living in these parts now. A deep sea dive here could be all you need to restore your belief in this magical planet’s magnificence.

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