Fantastic that rises almost abruptly into elevated terrain.

Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them

Within
each one of us lies a line, an imaginary one between who we are and who we want
to be. Our planet has one too and it is called the Antarctic Circle. Beyond
this circle lies a realm that embeds itself into your soul with insidious
charm. The land spooned by the sea and caressed by snow; the coast
speckled with carefree creatures that rises almost abruptly into elevated
terrain.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

 

The Antarctic continent also happens to be the most remote,
inhospitable environment on Earth. Harsh and inaccessible, covered by over 5
million square miles of solid ice, it is the world’s driest & coldest
continent. No place on earth provides a more demanding environment for
survival.

 

It is perhaps this that drew me towards the last great wilderness.
I was chosen to be a part of the International Antarctic Expedition (IAE). The
IAE was an exhilarating, unpredictable and a life-changing experience; the
purpose of which was to engage and inspire the next generation of leaders to
take responsibility to build resilient communities and in doing so, preserve
Antarctica.

 

Over the course of the two-week expedition, I had a
chance to explore spectacular sites across the Antarctic Peninsula. Our ship,
the ‘Ocean Endeavor’ meandered across seas, giving me glimpses of the
beauty and vastness of the continent. Antarctica is teeming with some of the
most exotic animal species on the planet, all of which have evolved remarkably
to thrive in such harsh conditions. While mammals such as whales and seals have
a thick layer of fat for insulation, fishes have a naturally occurring
anti-freeze in their blood. I had encounters with several species of whales,
seals, birds and penguins during the expedition. Here are some of my favorite
experiences:

 

1) Gentoo Penguin

 

The first thing that comes to most people’s mind when they
think of Antarctica is penguins. Of all the Antarctic species, I was most
excited to see them. Gentoos are the third largest penguins and are often
between two and three feet high. They prefer living along the coast line and are
famous for being monogamous, meaning that they pair exclusively to a single
mate. Not just that, these birds are at the forefront of gender equality; incubation
is shared equally by parents. They are social birds and during their breeding
season, they form large groups, or “rookeries”, that include thousands of
penguins. Due to moratorium on hunting in the Antarctic, Gentoo Penguins do not
fear humans. So, don’t be surprised if one walks up to you to say hi!

 

2) Crabeater Seal

 

Crabeater Seals are probably the most abundant large mammal
on Earth, with some being over 2 meters in length. Their name is a misnomer, as
they feed on shrimp-like krill, which they catch by straining mouthfuls of
seawater. These seals have a slender body, a distinct neck, and a pointed snout.
Curious and playful, I couldn’t help but notice how they were basically doggos
of the sea!

 

3) Southern Royal Albatross

 

The largest seabird in the world, the royal albatross has a
wing span of over three meters. They are also some of the longest living birds,
usually living well into their 40s. These birds usually pair for life, with new
pairs performing elaborate courtship displays with full spreading of the wings,
accompanied by a variety of mating calls.

 

4) Humpback Whale

 

Humpback whales are found abundantly in the Antarctic and can
grow up to 20 meters long and weigh 35 tons. One may assume an animal this massive
would need to eat large prey but humpback whales don’t even have teeth! Instead
of teeth they have baleen, that are made of keratin; the same material as our
hair. These whales take a mouthful of seawater, and squeeze it out while all
the food remains inside.

 

5) Antarctic Tern

 

These majestic birds, weighing about 100 grams on average are
world record holders for the longest migration ever recorded. An Antarctic
tern’s journey to the Arctic and back was recorded at a total of 95,755 km —
more than twice the circumference of the planet. A Tern could fly more than 3
million km over its lifetime; roughly the equivalent of four round trips to the
moon.

 

6) Leopard Seal

 

Fearsome creatures, leopard seals are at the top of the
Antarctic food chain. They are called so because of their spotted fur, that
resembles that of a leopard’s. I was fortunate enough to cross paths with this
deadly beast since they are usually reclusive and prefer staying away from
humans. The ends of their mouth are curled upward, creating the illusion of a
smile. But beware, they cannot be trusted and are known to fatally attack
humans!

 

7) Killer Whale

 

With their distinctive black and white pattern, Killer whales
are instantly recognizable and live in all the world’s oceans. Along with the
Leopard seal, Killer whales are top predators in the Antarctic. I was surprised
to find out that their name is a misnomer and that they are in fact dolphins
and not whales. They feast on marine animals such as seals and even whales,
using teeth that can be up to five inches long.

 

8) Fur Seal

 

Antarctic Fur seals are more closely related to sea lions
than seals, and share with them external ears, relatively long and muscular
fore flippers, and the ability to walk on all fours. They are marked by their
dense underfur, which unfortunately made them an attractive target for hunters.

 

 

           

The history of human interaction with Antarctica is one of
greed and gloom. Whale and seal hunting was the primary reason for the initial
exploration of the land mass. Reports of abundant stocks drew the adventurous
from the early 1800’s onwards. Before long, there were major crashes in the
populations of some wildlife. For example, the Antarctic fur seal was almost
wiped out at many locations by 1830. Once the most profitable species had been
hunted to a point of great scarcity, the next species was hunted until it too
was very rare, then the next and so on. Human activities in Antarctica are governed by
an international agreement known as the Antarctic Treaty System, established in
1959. Currently there is a moratorium in place that bans hunting in Antarctica
called the Madrid Protocol, established in 1991. The result is that Antarctica
is one of the few places on our planet that has never seen war, where the
environment is protected and where the priority is scientific research. The
Antarctic Treaty has ensured that this has continued. However, this document
can be reviewed after the 50?year anniversary in 2041. We must come together to
ensure this Treaty is renewed and that Antarctica is left alone.

 

 

How to get there:

The most popular way to reach
Antarctica is by taking a ship from Ushuaia, Argentina. Ushuaia is the
southern-most city in the world and goes by the name ‘The End of The World’.
The two-day journey from Ushuaia takes you through the Beagle Channel and the legendary
Drake Passage. Crossing the legendary Drake Passage is an unforgettable
experience as well as a formidable challenge. Its rough nature has given it the
name ‘Sailor’s Everest’.

Visa:

Antarctica’s beauty lies in the
fact that it is shared equally by all nations and peoples. No one ‘owns’
Antarctica and yet it is everyone’s. While entering Antarctica requires no visa,
you need one to enter Argentina to board the ship for Antarctica. Depending on
where you live in India, you will need to apply to the Argentinian Embassy in
New Delhi or the consulate in Mumbai. Good news – Argentinian tourist visa is
free for Indians!

Best time to visit Antarctica

The best time to visit Antarctica
is between November and March – the months when sunshine is abundant and the
sea ice melts enough to allow access to ships. Temperature returns to expected
sub-zero levels, with seemingly endless nights marking the ‘no go’ months
between April and September.

A traveller at heart, I have been to 22 countries on 6 continents.
My favorite experiences are plunging in to sub-zero Antarctic waters,
renovating a Buddhist monastery in Sri Lanka and hiking Borneon jungles. I am
also an engineer, a public speaker, a sustainability believer and a polar
explorer. Follow my misadventures on www.passportuncontrol.com and Instagram
@geeknextdoor.