As we explore Shackleton's adventures in Antarctica this summer, what about the animals which called this great icy continent home?
The continent of Antarctica is larger than Europe and over 60 times the size of the UK when at its smallest in the summer when the icy ocean surrounding the vast landmass begins to melt and break up.
With full darkness throughout half of the year and only two species of native flowering plants, you would think that the world’s highest, driest and coldest landscape would be the last place on Earth that you would find wildlife not just living, but thriving in an environment which is technically classified as a desert – You would in fact be very lucky to witness snow in Antarctica!
However, helped by strict international treaties and conservation plans, this most remote and untouched of lands is home to a variety of fascinating and wonderful creatures, from small but characterful Macaroni Penguins, to the incredible Southern Elephant Seals which can grow up to six metres in length. 40 million years ago there was also a 2 metre tall Mega Penguin which called Antarctica home!
The Macaroni Penguin of Antarctica may only be 70cm tall and weigh 5.5kg, but this little penguin with its distinctive crest, resembling large golden eyebrows certainly leaves an impression.
Capable of swimming at up to 6mph to feed on krill and small fish, the Macaroni Penguin is able to dive up to 70 metres below the surface of the ice and when on land, are capable of hopping around when waddling is just that little bit too boring for them…
Classified as a vulnerable species, the macaroni was named after the exaggerated fashion style of late 18th century Europe, when extravagant feathers were worn in the hats of men who wanted to show off their style. Hands up who thought they were named after pasta?
The title of the biggest penguin ever belongs to an extinct mega-penguin that roamed Antarctica 37-40 million years ago in what’s called the Eocene Epoch and at around the same time as the first ever permanent Antarctic icesheets.
Its proper name is Palaeeudyptes Klekowskii, which is far too hard to say, but it means Colossus Penguin!
This massive species of penguin grew up to 8 feet tall and weighed at last 115kg. Scientists think that a penguin of this size could stay underwater for up to 40 minutes!
Southern Elephant Seal
These are the biggest seals on Earth! But even though they look quite big and lumbering, Elephant Seals are excellent, graceful swimmers and have been recorded to hold their breath for up to 2 hours!
Male Elephant Seals (bulls) are much bigger than female Elephant Seals (cows). The bulls also have a much bigger and more obvious protruding nose (trunk), which they can inflate to increase its size and attract a mate. When the trunk inflates, the Elephant Seal also makes a loud bellowing roaring sound which intimidates any rivals.
From time to time, these seals like to gather up together in huge numbers (called pods) on the shores, to find a mate or shed their coats. It can be a very smelly place!
This summer at the Shipwreck Treasure Museum, join us as we adventure through Antarctica and follow in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the crew of his Endurance whilst learning more about the wonderful creatures that call this icy continent home – including our very own Snoot, the Elephant seal!