View this newsletter in your web browser Browse all newsletters
No. 47
Well lucky me – I have just been to Antarctica, courtesy of Seven West Travel Club, Peregrine Travel, Air NZ and Quark Expeditions. I am not usually that keen on cold places especially somewhere without any reptiles in sight. No reptiles or amphibians occur on the so-called 7th continent, but feeling brave and packing a new jumper and some warm socks, off we went looking forward to a visual feast of penguins and whales, icebergs and albatrosses.

The Antarctic is the land mass down south - a continent covered by ice, in places up to 800m thick, think whales and seals. The Arctic by comparison think North Pole is all ice surrounded by land, with polar bears, walrus and the narwhal. Unlike the Arctic no indigenous peoples live in Antarctica, just some scientists and military bases that are rarely occupied year round, due to the extremely bitter and long cold Antarctic winter. We had a calm 2 day crossing of the notorious Drakes Passage across the Southern Ocean.

David Manning in Antarctica 2018. Photo: Animal Ark

Crossing the Southern Ocean calm - Drakes Passage. Photo: Animal Ark

Antarctic krill (Euphausia supreba) are small crustaceans that underpin the entire Antarctic ecosystem. The 5-6 cm shrimp-like creatures feed largely on phytoplankton, also known as micro algae. Krill, in their billions, are found in vast swarms in the cold Antarctic waters, vertically migrating from the deep waters during the day to the warmer surface at night. Almost every Antarctic animal either eats krill directly or eats something that ate krill. Many species, like the poorly named crabeater seals, have special teeth that filter out these protein rich critters. Whales of course are famous for using their baleen to filter out krill and other planktonic creatures, but most seals, penguins and even the giant leopard seal, and many birds rely on them. Antarctic krill euphausia superba. Photo: Krill666 UWE Kils wikicommons media

Humpback whale straining water through its baleen. Photo: Robert Pitman NOAA, Wikimedia Commons

Crabeater seal teeth, Te Papa specimen. Photo: Colin Miskelly, Te Papa

The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was minus 89.2°C on July 21st 1983 at Antarctica’s Russian research facility the Vostock Station. I just checked out today’s temperature there and it’s only a balmy minus 51°C. Don’t leave the hut without a coat! Antarctica panorama. Photo: Animal Ark
Surprisingly despite all the snow and ice, a small part of Antarctica is considered the driest place on earth. High mountains surround the Antarctic McMurdo valleys and these stop the advance of any glaciers. Combined with intense katabatic winds (downward and gravity fed) that evaporate all water, ice or snow, they create extreme aridity. Scientists estimate that in the Friis Hills area little or no measurable rain or snow has fallen for 14 million years. Dry valleys, Antaractica. Photo: NASA_GSFC_METI_ERSDAC_JAROS and US-Japan-ASTER-Science-Team, Wikimedia commons
It was often quiet in Antarctica, we did hear the cracking sounds that glaciers make when icebergs are formed, toppling away into the sea in a process called calving. We heard and saw an avalanche, but mostly the wildlife was quiet. We heard whales breaching and blowing. The penguins did make some strange honking sounds but the most bizarre sounds and one of the world’s weirdest vocalizations must belong to the Weddell seals. A mix of visiting aliens jamming with Pink Floyd was how I thought they sounded.

Hear them here :

Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii), Antarctica. Photo: Animal Ark
Minke whales, southern right whales and the most commonly observed humpback whales were regular sightings - some coming very close to our zippy zodiac boats. Logging (resting), blowing (breathing), feeding, diving, breaching, tail flukes, fin shapes, bubble nets – all glimpses we caught of these immense and gentle creatures. Humpback whale fin, Antarctica. Photo: Animal Ark

Humpback whale tail, Antarctica 2018. Photo: Animal Ark

A trip like this, an expedition indeed but based on a cruise ship. The success or not of such a trip is down to the captain avoiding the many icebergs! But really I found it all hinged on the staff and guides who literally guide you out on the zodiac boats but also guide you through lectures and private discussions about the wildlife, land and ice forms that surrounded you in the chilly wilderness. Amongst the dozen or so skilled guides on board it was a pleasure to meet Nigel from Norfolk a semi retired ornithologist. His knowledge of and ease of identification of the many swirling sea birds seen around the ship made me appreciate our feathered friends more that usual – feathers are as I keep reminding people only specially modified reptile scales. Wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) in flight. Photo: JJ Harrison, Wikicommons media
The iconic Antarctic bird must surely be the penguin and we were lucky to get up close to three different species on our trip – in quite large numbers on some colonies we visited. The gregarious Gentoos – the classic pppp pick up a penguin (if you grew up in the UK you will know what we mean here); the quieter Adelie and the Chinstrap. We could often smell a colony before we saw it. On land they are ungainly and waddling, however in the ocean sleek and agile – watching groups cresting as they headed out to feed was something quite special. All penguins, of which there are only 17 species, are only found in the southern hemisphere (apart from the Galapagos penguin which spans a narrow band at the equator, which technically crosses into the northern hemisphere). And the three we saw are classified as true Antarctic species, as they breed on or near the continent itself. There’s some great citizen science being used to better monitor the penguin colonies in Antarctica, and some 100 sites are monitored year round with cameras. To learn more and get involved visit Gentoo penguin, Splendid Isolation, Antarctica. Photo: Animal Ark

Adelie penguins, Antarctica. Photo: Animal Ark

Chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus), Antarctica. Photo: Animal Ark

There are many kinds of bergs (so our onboard iceberg lecturer informed us). An iceberg is a piece of frozen freshwater ice formed long ago from snow that fell and built up over hundreds and/or thousands of years – this slow moving river as a glacier or ice sheet eventually flows downhill, the bits that calve (break off) are now called icebergs. We had pure and dense iceberg ice in our whiskeys – very novel. Being particularly dense – compressed from the sheer weight of ice above it this ice took ages to melt in the glass - so it chilled the whisky but did not water it down. I tested it at least twice just to make sure!

Standard iceberg: At around 5 meters long you will be called an iceberg.

Little chunks: Smaller bits of ice are called bergy bits and growlers.

Tip of: Anywhere between 50% and 99% may be beneath the surface.

Largest Iceberg: Largest measured was technically called an Antarctic tabular (flat topped) iceberg 335 by 97 kilometers – that’s a huge 31,000 square kilometers in all.

Beautiful: Waves, currents, melting and refreezing, tipping over, algae and many other factors explain the various colours we saw in Antarctic icebergs. They were the unexpected wonder of our trip.

Titanic and more: Yes the famous Titanic was sunk by an Arctic iceberg but smaller denser icebergs like the growlers can be hard to spot as they can be very dark and dense enough to pierce a ship’s hull. In 2007 the tourist ship M/V Explorer hit an iceberg and sank – fortunately it sank slowly taking 15 hours to go down. All 154 souls on board were rescued from lifeboats after 5 hours adrift. Didn’t even know about that before we set out in our ship.

Iceberg with lines, Antarctica. Photo: Animal Ark

Bergy bits ice Antarctica. Photo: Animal Ark

Antarctic ice for drinks. Photo: Animal Ark

Blue iceberg, Antarctica. Photo: Animal Ark

What deal can we offer this month? Cannot really think of anything in particular to offer so why not be generous so... 15% off any stock items (excludes books). And also 15% off any training courses for individuals or their dogs booked and paid for in advance. Just mention ANTARCTICA when you book and pay by phone. Valid until the end of April. Gentoo penguin colony, Antarctic Peninsula Island. Photo: Animal Ark
Animal in Focus: Leopard Seal (Hydrurga leptonyx)
Leopard seals along with killer whales are Antarctica’s top predators. They are found almost entirely around the Antarctic continent and within the pack ice. Occasionally they may also be found along the coastline and islands of the South American continent in places like Tierra del Fuego Island in Chile.

They are solitary and sparsely populated, little is known about their breeding behaviour but a single pup is born usually during the winter months, when any attempt to study them is hampered by the extreme weather patterns of the area. Leopard seals have spotted coats, and females may reach 4metres in length weighing in at up to 600kg. They are easily distinguished from other seals by the very large reptilian like head. With, their powerful fore flippers they may exceed speeds of 40km per hour whilst hunting for prey around the icebergs and the cold waters they inhabit.

We caught a few glimpses, saw one kill and thrash a penguin around as they do to open up the prey, tearing and ripping at it allowing them access to the breast meat. Not much else is eaten and the carcass is then abandoned. One day we came across a recent kill and pictured is the gory remains of a penguin. These seals were scary and I felt intimidated by their presence; they are large, powerful, determined predators. They have attacked inflatable boats before, and they have also attacked several people before and killed at least one, a research diver; no doubt they will kill again, their search for prey elemental. They seem indifferent to what species they predate, feeding mainly on penguins, but also taking crabeater and fur seals, along with juvenile Weddell, Ross and southern elephant seals. Krill can also feature seasonally in their diet, and special serrated cheek teeth filter them out. Alongside very large canine teeth leopard seals are a very, versatile carnivore.

Leopard seal hunting, Antarctica. Photo: Animal Ark

Leopard seal hunt - remains of penguin, Antarctica. Photo: Animal Ark

Leopard seal in Pleneau Bay, Antarctica. Photo: Liam Quinn, Wikimedia commons

Upcoming Courses and Events
Snake Avoidance Training for Dogs
Tuesday 24 April – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 12 May – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 9 June – Bunbury
Saturday 16 June – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 14 July – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 11 August – Geraldton
Sunday 12 August – Geraldton
Saturday 25 August – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 8 September – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 15 September – Harradines Vets, Bunbury
Sunday 16 September – Harradines Vets, Bunbury
Saturday 6 October – Perth Hills
Saturday 13 October - Harradines Vets, Bunbury
Sunday 14 October - Harradines Vets, Bunbury
Sunday 21 October – Albany WA
Monday 22 October – Albany WA
Tuesday 23 October – South West WA
Wednesday 24 October – South West WA
Thursday 25 October – Nannup
Friday 26 October – Nannup
Saturday 27 October - Nannup
Saturday 3 November – Rockingham
Friday 9 November – Margaret River
Saturday 10 November – Margaret River

Venomous Snake Handling Course
DBCA Parks and Wildlife Service approved for Regulation 17 Reptile Removalists Licence
Friday 4 May – North Beach, Perth
Friday 25 May – North Beach, Perth
Friday 8 June - Bunbury
Friday 22 June - North Beach, Perth
Friday 20 July – North Beach, Perth
Monday 13 August - Geraldton
Friday 17 August - North Beach, Perth
Friday 7 September – North Beach, Perth
Friday 5 October – North Beach, Perth
Wednesday 31 October – Perth
Friday 30 November – Perth
Friday 14 December - Perth

Fauna Handling Course
Thursday 24 May – North Beach, Perth
Thursday 16 August – North Beach, Perth

Public Events
Do come along and see us. Bring your family or friends as well.
The Animal Ark Roadshow will be attending the following events:

Monday 16 April
Woodvale Library, Hillarys
To book contact City of Joondalup Libraries

Wednesday 18 April
Rockingham Library, Safety Bay Library, Warnbro Library
To book contact City of Rockingham Libraries

Sunday 27 May
Wear Ya Wellies Day
Edmonds Reserve, Edmonds Place, Bindoon
Contact Shire of Chittering for more information

See our diary for more dates or contact us to book.

Call (08) 9243 3044, SMS 0466 688 188 or email David, Jenny or Keely at to book.

Courses held monthly and as required plus on-site and remote site training available.