Antarctica is one of those places you’ve probably not been but should. Not many people know a lot about it. For instance, is Antarctica a country or a continent? Who owns it? And what’s the landscape and wildlife like there? So we’ve put together a guide to Antarctica to help you learn more about it, and add it to your list of places to visit.
Antarctica is the world’s most southern and fifth-largest continent and shouldn’t be confused with the South Pole, which is actually part of Antarctica. It’s around twice the size of Australia and 98% of it is totally covered in ice. Antarctica is also considered to be the coldest, driest and windiest continent on the Earth and for these reasons there are no permanent human residents. But many – around 5,000 – live there at various times of the year and the only creatures found there have adapted to deal with an environment where it can drop to as low as 89 degrees C.
It is, however, one of the few must-see places on the planet. It has a number of fantastic natural features not found anywhere else on Earth. The Amery Ice Shelf, for examples, is a huge expanse of floating ice that is as spectacular as it sounds. Deception Island is also worth a visit. It’s an active volcano - don’t worry, the last eruption was in 1970 – where you can see steaming beaches and glaciers layered with ash and has a natural harbour sheltered from the harshest of the elements so ships can sail right through it. There aren’t many other places around you can get so close to a volcano on a boat!
You should also check out the spectacular transantarctic mountains too. They form the natural barrier between East and West Antarctic and span the entire length of the continent. And at 3,500 km are one of the largest mountain ranges anywhere in the world. Early explorers Ernest Shackleton and Roald Amundsen were the first people to cross them.
A number of animals are native to the region, including seals and penguins. Seals include Antarctic fur seals, Crabeater seals, Leopard seals, Weddel seals and Southern elephant seals. All have massive populations and mainly eat the fish and krill which swim in the seas around the continent. Leopard seals are the most fearsome as they will make a meal of other seals and penguins given the chance but mainly eat krill and shrimps.
There are a number of penguins living in Antarctica too - namely the Adelie penguin, Chinstrap penguin, Emperor, King penguin, Macaroni and Gentoo penguin. They all thrive in the icy landscape as they have thick feathers and layers of fat to keep them warm, and have plenty of fish and sea creatures to feast on.
Other animals found there are Antarctic Minke whales and Killer Whales - the continent’s most feared predator. It’s also home to numerous bird species including albatrosses, skuas and petrels.
Antarctica’s unique because no-one can lay claim to fully owning it. Great swathes are owned by Australia, with Norway also owing a significant share. Chile, New Zealand, France, the United Kingdom and Argentina also all have territory there, with several disputes for land still in place.
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