Due to the harsh climate, vegetation is sparse; these factors limit plant life to mosses and lichens, and also algae.
Animal life is also sparse in the continent proper, but abounds in the surrounding ocean, and depends on the food it provides. Emperor, Gentoo and Adelie penguins breed within the Antarctic region; also albatross, petrels, seagulls, cormorants and Antarctic dove.
But out of these, only the Emperor penguin has fully adapted to the difficult climate conditions and strong winds. Other species, such as seals, birds and other penguins, live only on the coastal area that melts in summer.
Sometimes they can be found living in colonies, made up of millions of specimens, but in wintertime -when ice forms again around the continent- they migrate. As for mammals, there are some species of seals, elephant seals, fur seals, whales (blue whales, orcas or killer whales, toothed whales and baleen whales). Among the species living in the Antarctic Ocean, krill stand out.
Image credit: Uwe Kils
Krill is a small crustacean that is 3-centimetres long, and that forms the base of the Antarctic food web and is the mainstay of almost all other species (seals, whales, birds, penguins, etc.). Krill are abundant and its eventual exploitation as a food source for human kind has aroused a lot of controversy among the scientific community.
Some investigations indicate that the abundance of this shrimplike crustacean is so important that it might be exploited without putting the Antarctic fauna in danger, but some other scientists think otherwise.
Krill (Euphausia superba): Norwegian word that designates whale’s food used as a common name for a small animal that makes up the order Euphausiacea.
It is a small shrimplike crustacean that ranges in length from 3 to 5 centimetres that inhabits all the waters surrounding the Austral continent. Krill are a fundamental link in the food web in the Antarctic continent. A fracture in the food chain, to which krill belongs, could have catastrophic consequences in ecology. Krill is a strategic element in the antarctic biology, and is perhaps on of the most important links in the trophic chain.
Image credit: COM SALUD Agencia de comunicación
There are about 90 species all over the world, and only in Antarctica the biomass of Krill is estimated in 5,000,000 tons. Shoals of these crustaceans have densities of 20 kilograms per cubic metre.
They use their feathery legs for straining out the tiny diatoms on which they live. They also emit a blue-green light that probably helps them congregate to spawn. They are eaten by fish, birds, and especially whales, which consume as much as 2 tons in one feeding. Some species remain in the surface and others can be found as deep as 2,000 metres.
Whaling has placed some species on the brink of extinction and as a consequence krill can now be found in extremely large numbers. Nevertheless, this excess could be illusory. Its large-scale exploitation is being studied by Russian and Japanese experts.