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The Ross Sea hosts an amazing diversity of marine animals, including at least 10 mammal species, half a dozen species of birds, 95 species of fish, and in excess of 1,000 invertebrate species. We've listed facts about some of the key Ross Sea species below.




Adélie penguin(Pygoscelis adeliae)


Ross Sea population: 3 million

Size: Up to 76 cm tall

Diet: Small fish and krill

Predator: Skuas, Leopard seals

Did you know: Adélie penguins are the smallest Ross Sea penguin, but the most abundant. Their colony at Cape Royds in the Ross Sea is the southernmost penguin colony in the world.




 Adélie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)


Emperor penguin(Aptenodytes forsteri)


Ross Sea population: 240,000

Size: Up to 1.2 m tall and up to 45 kg

Diet: Fish, squid and crustaceans

Predators: Leopard seals, orcas

Did you know: Emperor penguins are the largest penguin species and are the only species that breeds during the brutal Antarctic winter. Their amazing life cycle, in which they trek over 50-120 km of ice to reach their breeding colonies, was featured in the French documentary, March of the Penguins and the award winning animation Happy Feet.


Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)


Antarctic petrel (Thalassoica antarctica)


Ross Sea population: 5.5 million

Wingspan: Up to110 cm

Diet: Krill, fish, and small squid

Predators: None known

Did you know: The Antarctic Petrel is the only known species in the genus Thalassoica. In the spring they head inland and nest on mountaintops hundreds of kilometres inland, while in late winter, they're occasionally seen off the coast of New Zealand and Australia.


 Antarctic Petrel (Thalassoica antarctica)


Snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea)


Ross Sea population: One million

Wingspan: Up to 95 cm

Diet: Krill, fish and squid

Predators: None known

Did you know: Snow Petrels are stark white, blending in well with the snow and ice. Some consider them the most beautiful birds in Antarctica. Like the Antarctic Petrel, Snow Petrels also nest on inland mountaintops.




South polar skua(Stercorarius maccormicki)


Ross Sea population: 19,000

Wingspan: Up to 160 cm

Diet: Fish, chicks, eggs, squid, krill and carrion

Predators: None known

Did you know: South polar skuas are fierce predators, often stealing fish from other birds and actively preying on penguin chicks and eggs. The largest South Polar Skua colony in the world is found at Cape Crozier in the Ross Sea




Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis)


Ross Sea population: 21,000

Size: Up to almost 11 m in length and ten tons in weight

Diet: Krill and fish

Predator: Orcas

Did you know: Minke whales are the smallest baleen whales in the world. Antarctic minke whales are their own separate species, but they are closely related to common minke whales



Killer whales Ecotype A, B & C (Orcinus orca)


Three distinct killer whales types live in the Ross Sea, but ecotype C is by far the most common.


Ross Sea population: At least 3,400, but mostly ecotype C

Size: Ecotype A is the largest, growing up to 9 m, while ecotype C have an average length of 5.6 m

Diet: Ecotype A feeds mainly on Antarctic minke whales, while ecotype B primarily feeds on seals and emperor penguins, and ecotype C feeds almost exclusively on fish, particularly the Antarctic toothfish

Predator: None known

Did you know: Killer whale ecotype A lives mainly in continental slope ice-free water, while ecotype B mainly occupies inshore waters, and ecotype C lives in the pack-ice of continental shelf waters.




Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii)


Ross Sea population: 30,000 to 50,000

Size: Up to 3.3 m in length and 600 kg in weight

Diet: Mostly fish and squid

Predator: Orcas, Leopard seals

Did you know: Weddell seals have the most southerly distribution of any mammal, living as far south as McMurdo Sound.



Crabeater seal (Lobodon carcinophagus)


Ross Sea population: 204,000

Size: 2.5 m in length and 400 kg in weight

Diet: Mostly krill

Predators: Leopard seals

Did you know: Crabeater seals earned their name from their specially adapted teeth, which have extra projections so that when they gulp in seawater they can strain out the krill



Leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx)


Ross Sea population: 8,000

Size: Up to 3.5 m in length and 460 kg in weight

Diet: Penguins, smaller seals, fish and squid.

Predators: None known, but perhaps orcas

Did you know: The leopard seal is named for its black-spotted coat. Like their feline namesake, leopard seals are ruthless predators. Check out this National Geographic slideshow of leopard seals, featuring the infamous "death shake," in which a leopard seal can rip a penguin from it's skin within seconds



Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni)


Ross Sea population: Unknown

Size: More than 2 m in length and in excess of 150 kg in weight

Diet: Fish and squid

Predators: Sperm whales, ecotype C killer whales, Weddell seals, and colossal squid

Did you know: The Antarctic toothfish is famous for producing antifreeze glycoproteins that allows it to survive in the ice-laden waters of the Southern Ocean.




Antarctic silverfish (Pleuragramma antarcticum)


Ross Sea population: Unknown

Size: Up to 25 cm

Diet: Krill

Predators: Penguins, seals, toothfish, whales, and other seabirds

Did you know: Like the Antarctic toothfish, this much smaller fish also produces antifreeze proteins. The Antarctic silverfish is regarded as the only truly pelagic fish in Antarctic waters




Antarctic krill(Euphausia superba)


Ross Sea population: Estimated 500 million tones in the Southern Ocean.

Size: Adult Antarctic krill are approximately six centimetres in length and weigh over a gram.

Diet: Mainly herbivorous, feeding on the phytoplankton (microscopic suspended plants) and occasionally planktonic animals (zooplankton).

Predators: Most of the larger Antarctic animals, the seals, whales, seabirds, fish and squid, depend directly or indirectly on Antarctic krill.

Did you know: Antarctic krill can survive for long periods (up to 200 days) without food and can shrink in length as they starve.




Crystal krill(Euphausia crystallorophias)


Ross Sea population: Unknown

Size: smaller than Antarctic krill, reaching a maximum length of 3.4cm. Females are slightly larger than males.

Diet: Phytoplankton, sometimes algae scraped from under the ice.

Predators: an important food source for coastal predators, eaten by whales and other large animals (Minke whales, Weddell seals, Adelie penguins, silverfish).

Did you know: This species is found from the surface down to usually

300 to 650 meters depth but has been recorded near 4,000 meters.




© All images John Weller, except Antarctic Snow petrel © Darci Lombard, Antarctic toothfish © Rob Robbins, Antarctic silverfish © Joe Eastman, Antarctic krill © Lara Asato, Crystal krill © Valerie Loeb.

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