In Australia, our seasons are pretty well defined. During the summer, the soaring temperatures make for great beach weather, while winter brings nippy temperatures that can see snow fall in the mountains.
However, Antarctica doesn’t play by the same season rulebook – and we’re not just talking about the temperature. On an adventure with Aurora Expeditions, you’re able to see these various seasons in action, witnessing how the changing environmental conditions affect not only the wildlife, but the landscape as well.
Spring (November to early December)
After a long and dark winter, spring begins to wake the icy continent around the start of November. At this time, there is still the feel of ‘deep Antarctica’ with large sections of pack and fast ice floating on the ocean’s surface. For the team at Aurora Expeditions, spring marks the start of our touring season to the frozen continent.
If you decide to venture to Antarctica, you’re in for a real treat. Sensing the changing seasons, birds such as wandering albatrosses and the various penguin species, along with seals begin their breeding cycles – courtship rituals/dances, building nests and breeding.
King penguins on South Georgia, for example, will start to shuffle their eggs every 6-18 days for around 55 days as the other parent feeds at sea. Elsewhere, macaroni penguins will use the early spring weather to search out snow-free nest sites away from potential predators such as seals. This time of year is also when fur and elephant seals give birth, creating a true nursery feel on the subantarctic islands and on the continent.
Read more: Exploring the subantarctic islands
Times are also changing at sea. The warmer water allows plankton and fish numbers to increase, attracting orca and minke whales back to the region.
Spring is a hive of activity in Antarctica, making it the perfect time for wildlife and landscape photography – capturing the pristine environment moving through its first major season.
Midsummer (December to early February)
As the turn of the year passes, there is one obvious change to Antarctica’s environmental conditions – the sun never sets! Yes, with nearly 24 hours of daylight, the wildlife and birdlife start to welcome their new arrivals to the world, with the main aim being to keep them away from the constant predator danger.
Read more: What does your expedition naturalist do?
A good example of this is the king penguin family. After the chick hatches, it balances on one parent’s feet and is transferred between them every few days. As they get too big to balance and also develop their warm coats, chicks will be placed in ‘creches’ with other chicks while their parents feed. However, with hungry skuas and other predatory birds circling, it’s a constant battle between protecting their young and fishing at sea.
Down on the beaches of South Georgia, it’s also all action for the seals. Elephant seals will be continuing to suckle their pups, also known as weaners, while leopard seals can hunt penguin parents trying to waddle the gauntlet between the ocean and their nests on higher ground. On the Antarctic continent, you might be lucky to see a group of Weddell seals moulting their brown fur for the warmer months.
Read more: Hot & cold – volcanoes in Antarctica
Midsummer is also when the famous humpback whales arrive from the north in search of prime feeding conditions. From the Greg Mortimer, we might be fortunate to witness their bubble net feeding technique where humpbacks in a circle blow bubbles below a school of fish. This forces the fish towards the surface where the pod will swim through the bubble net with their mouths open, ready for thousands of fish in one gulp.
Late summer (Mid February to late March)
As summer draws to a close, it’s the turn of the various new arrivals to test out their new environments. On South Georgian beaches, hundreds of fur seal pups will begin to cause mischief – play-fighting with each other and learning to swim. At the similar time, cormorant chicks will start to practise flying in the buffering southern winds while albatross chicks (on a slower breeding cycle) hatch.
Read more: Wildlife Fact File – Wandering Albatross
For the new penguin chicks, late summer is potentially the most dangerous period. As they’ve now fully fledged, it’s time to run that same gauntlet as their parents, past the leopard seals to the relative safety of the sea. What makes this time even more dangerous is the fact that leopard seals court during late summer, their incredible songs echoing from the beaches. All the penguins need to do is stay out of the way.
Out at sea, the well-feed humpbacks are showing off, breaching into the air in magnificent displays – make sure you have your camera ready.
Read more: When is the best time to go to Antarctica?
Of course, late summer brings the start of the dark winter. Nightfall provides stunning sunsets, while the colder weather sees patches of sea ice appear, a sign that the seasons are again changing.