This large seal has an amazing specialization that has allowed it to thrive
What you need to know about the Crabeater Seal
Our Expert Says… "It's very rare to see Crabeaters on the shore, they much prefer to socialize on ice floes. As adults age, they get paler in color. Some so much so that in the past they were mistaken for another species that was named the White Seal until it was understood that these were elderly crabeaters."
Many people are surprised to learn that the crabeater seal doesn’t actually eat crabs! In fact, it’s a specialist feeder on Antarctic krill. Its teeth act like sieves, and they are perfectly shaped for straining the small crustaceans out of the water so they can be swallowed down.
Crabeaters are a pretty large seal, often growing to more than 2m (6ft 7”) in length, and they are mainly found on the pack ice that forms and retreats over the course of an Antarctic year. They haul themselves onto the ice in groups to rest and socialize, as well as to mate. However, when it comes time to give birth, female seals will haul out individually rather than gathering together as many other seal species do.
Unfortunately, the death rate among baby crabeater seals is very high, largely due to attacks from leopard seals, for whom they are a favorite food. Studies have found that up to 80% of the crabeater pups born each year are killed by leopard seals. Many young adult seals have visible scars as evidence of a close encounter with a leopard seal.
The pale-colored crabeater seal is by far the most common seal in the Antarctic region, and indeed the world, with a population estimated to be up to 75 million, despite its high levels of infant mortality. They have become so successful because of their specialization in eating the Antarctic krill, which is hugely abundant this far south beyond the hunting grounds of most large krill-eating whales apart from the blue whale and minke whales. Because whales were aggressively hunted in the early 20th century, the krill stocks massively increased, allowing them to support a huge crabeater population.
Crabeater Seal: Interesting facts
Studies of Orcas attacking seals have found they can be more wary of attacking a Crabeater Seal on an ice floe compared to a Weddell Sea since they can be quite 'snappy'!
Crabeater Seal: Pictures from our travelers
Spots where the Crabeater Seal can be observed
A gateway to the ultimate adventure that only a few will be lucky enough to experience.
Located at the northerly tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, the Sound is a remarkable onslaught for the senses as you come face-to-face with monstrous slabs of ice, now floating free as enormous tabular icebergs. These have broke away from ice shelves in the Weddell Sea and drifted into the Sound.
Treacherous to early explorers, the first vessel to successfully navigate the Sound was The Antarctic, the vessel of the Swedish Nordenskjold expedition of 1903. Unfortunately, she was trapped in the Weddell Sea by ice the following year and crushed - one of several vessels to have that fate over the decade.
Fortunately, modern polar cruising vessels have no such worries with their strengthened hulls and modern navigation technology. As you enter the monochromatic beauty of white ice and grey sea you will know that that you are soon going to experience some of the remarkable sights and encounter the wonderful wildlife that makes its home in these islands of snow, ice, and rock.
Brown Bluff is a great example of a “tuya” - a volcano that has been flattened by erupting through a glacier! These are the rarest of all volcano types and only found in areas that have seen large-scale glaciation in the past.
Brown Bluff with its distinctive “tabletop” look, lies on the Tabarin Peninsula, in the northernmost part of the Antarctic Peninsula, and on landings when there is little snow, with the rock formations it is easy to think you are in Colorado rather than Antarctica!
The landing beach here is made of pebbles and volcanic ash, rising quickly towards steep reddish-brown cliffs. The cliffs are embedded with “volcanic bombs” - large pieces of lava that were thrown out during an eruption, cooling in the air to land as solid spherical or oval shapes.
As well as the fascinating geology, the other star of the show is the birdlife. Brown Bluff is home to over 20,000 breeding pairs of Adelie penguins, as well as a small colony of gentoo penguins. And long lines of penguins walk along the beach to the preferred location to get into the water - away from areas where Leopard Seals may be hiding in hidden gullies offshore. Other breeding residents for what is landing on the main peninsula, include storm petrels, Cape petrels, Snow Petrels and Kelp gulls.
Weddell seals often haul out on the beach here, and it’s also common to see Leopard seals hunting in the waters close to the shore.
Damoy Point is a rocky headland on the west coast of Wiencke Island, near the northern entrance to the natural harbor at Port Lockroy. It was discovered and mapped by the French Antarctic expedition of 1903 led by Charcot.
The point is rather unassuming and at first glance doesn’t warrant a visit. However, it has a couple of hidden gems - two very well-preserved expedition huts.
The first, known as Damoy Hut, was built in 1973 and was used by the British Antarctic Survey as a summer air facility and a personnel transfer station, but hasn’t been used since 1993.
The interior is in excellent condition and almost looks as if it could be put back into use straight away. There are even tin cups hanging on the kitchen wall as if ready to give travel-weary scientists a restoring cup of tea!
Just outside Damoy Hut is a refuge built by Argentina in the 1950s. This is not open to visitors and is still in use as an emergency refuge should the need ever arise.
Apart from these historic buildings, visitors will see a small colony of Gentoo penguins who breed here, as well as plenty of seals and sea birds.
Danco Island, Errera Channel
Danco is a small island in the middle of the Errera Channel, a body of water that runs between Rongé Island and the coast of Graham Land.
Only 1 mile long, Danco’s wide, flat beach rises to a permanently ice-covered hill which gives stunning views over the channel. Visitors often report being able to see Humpback and Minke whales from here as they travel between the islands The view from the top with icebergs in the channel and crevassed glaciers in the surrounding mountains is stunning.
The island hosts around 1500 breeding pairs of gentoo penguins. They like to nest away from the beach up the slopes, and so you can always see them making their journeys to and from the sea, and Danco Island can have some of the best penguin highways in the snow where the Gentoo Penguins climb up and down to the colonies on the higher part of the island.
Seals are also frequent visitors to the island, as are a variety of Antarctic bird species including skuas, terns, and kelp gulls.
Danco was also the site of Base “O”, built by the British Antarctic Survey in 1954 as a base for geological research and exploration. The base was abandoned in 1959 when the expedition ended, and the huts were removed in 2004. On the beach, you can find a plaque with an inscription giving the story of the base.
Detaille Island is a small island in the Lallemand Fjord, part of the Arrowsmith Peninsula in Graham Land. It’s not much more than a rocky outcrop with gravel beaches, but it contains one of the best-preserved historic monuments in the Antarctic.
Detaille was home to “Base W” of the British Antarctic Survey. It was constructed in 1956 and was in use until 1959 when it was closed. Due to bad weather, the supply ship that was sent to take the men and equipment off the island couldn’t get any closer than 30 miles away. This meant that the men had to leave very quickly and with only the personal belongings that they could carry so the ship could depart as quickly as possible.
Because of these circumstances, Base W is almost completely intact. As you look around the hut you will be greeted with the eerie sight of tables still set out with condiments, shelves stacked with tin and jars, and everyday equipment like washing machines, tools, and even and bottles of gin and whisky (empty!). Longjohns and coats are half discarded, with magazines open on the tables, as they were left when the base was abandoned!
Preserved by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust, this is a remarkable insight into the early post-war scientific explorations of this amazing continent, and it makes Detaille Island and Base W a “must-visit” on any Antarctic itinerary.
It is also a good location for a Zodiac place with the 'deep south' scenery (it is just south of the Antarctic Circle), the ice, and to look out for seals and Adelie Penguins.
D’Hainaut & Trinity Island
D’Hainaut Island is a tiny rock island in Mikkelsen Harbour. It’s less than half a square mile in size, and it’s approached through a small bay that’s lined with dramatic cliffs of ice. It was first mapped by a French expedition in 1910.
The island often remains snow-covered until very late in the season, and the captain of your Antarctic cruise vessel will expertly navigate through the shallow reefs that are in the bay.
This island was used extensively for whaling, and there are artifacts and bones dotted around the island. D’Hainaut is one of the few Antarctic visitor sites where you can roam freely around the whole island, taking care not to disturb any of the artifacts and watching your step on the rocks, of course.
There is a small historic refuge here that was built originally by the Argentine Navy in the 1950s, then again in the 1970s, and most recently in 2017. However, the refuge can’t be entered except in emergencies.
There is also plenty of evidence of the whaling industry on the island. You can find the wrecks of several boats as well as many whale bones. There is a lively Gentoo penguin colony here, and you can often find Fur Seals basking in the sun.
Goudier Island is a small, low-lying island of bare, polished rock just 100 yards from Jougla Point in Port Lockroy Harbour. It’s part of the larger Wiencke Island. Often surrounded by sea ice, any snow cover on the island usually melts away by the end of the summer.
Goudier is home to “Base A” - established by the British in wartime in 1944 - which was used as a scientific research station until the early 1960s.
After falling into disrepair, the station was restored in the 1990s and is now looked after by a Heritage Trust. The base is permanently occupied, and its inhabitants still conduct important survey work on the penguin colony for the British Antarctic Survey.
You will usually be briefed by the Base Leader before you land ashore, and only 35 visitors are allowed inside the Base at any time. This is to ensure the artifacts and the fabric of the base are preserved.
This “time capsule” gives a fascinating insight into the work and lives of early Antarctic research pioneers and how they lived on Goudier Island. Access to the rest of the island is usually restricted to marked paths, both to protect wildlife and because the surface is uneven and slippery. However, you will be able to observe the resident penguin colony, and can also spot other birds and seals on the shores and in the sea.
Horseshoe Island is well named. The 3000ft high peaks here are arranged in a crescent shape and were first mapped by air by intrepid British explorers in the 1930s. The island sits in Square Bay, off the coast of Graham Land in Marguerite Bay, well to the south of the Antarctic Circle.
The landing tends to be the northwestern tip of Horshoe Island in Sally Cove. From here, it’s a short walk north to the amazingly preserved hut known as “Base Y” or Horseshoe Station.
This was established in 1955 as a scientific base and was closed permanently in 1960 when personnel were transferred to Stonington Island's Station E nearby. Although unused for over 60 years, Base Y is in a remarkable state of preservation and represents a model example of a fully-equipped exploration and scientific base of the time.
Inside the hut, you will be able to carefully explore by torchlight as you see artifacts from a bygone age. These include the original base generator, tools, light fixtures, tins and packets of original rations, and more items from the daily lives of the scientists who made Horseshoe Island their temporary homes.
Although this time-capsule building is the star of the show, it’s not unusual to encounter seals and skuas on or near to the landing site here.
Paulet Island is a striking sight. This circular rock is only 1 mile in diameter, yet it has a volcanic cone that rises to over 1100 feet at its center. It’s found about 3 miles from Dundee Island at the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula.
First mapped in 1839, Paulet Island is home to a huge penguin colony. Some 100,000 breeding pairs of Adelie penguins live here, a truly remarkable sight and sound! You will also see other sea birds on your visit, including shags, snow petrels, and kelp gulls.
Another fascinating aspect of Paulet Island is the historic shelter that dates back to 1903. The expedition ship on the Nordenskjöld expedition - the Antarctica (after which the Antarctic Sound is named) - was crushed by the ice pack, and survivors of the wreck reached Paulet built a stone hut to shelter them from the harsh winter conditions. There is also a cairn built on the highest point of the island that they used to attract attention for any rescue. There is also a grave marker for one expedition member who sadly did not survive.
Because Paulet Island is so densely packed with wildlife, visitors will be escorted in small groups by experienced Antarctic guides. This ensures that the breeding birds are disturbed as little as possible and that the shelter site is protected.
Fur seals are often also seen on the shores here. In the peak breeding season, you may find that some of the walking trails around the island are closed due to the sheer numbers of wonderful creatures that choose to raise their young here.
Petermann Island marks the extremes for two Antarctic species - not bad for a small rock less than a mile long!
This rocky outcrop that rises 500ft above the sea has a permanent covering of ice. The island is just south of Booth Island in the Lemaire Channel. Petermann Island is volcanic in origin, and it has a permanent icecap covering more than half of its surface. It’s home to the northernmost colony of Adelie penguins, but also the southernmost colony of Gentoo penguins. The latter are taking over (and pushing further souht) and soon there may be no breeding Adelie Penguins on Petermann Island.
First mapped by a French expedition in 1909, Petermann Island is also home to breeding colonies of skuas and Wilson’s storm petrels. There’s also a good chance to observe Weddell, crabeater, and fur seals.
Visitors can hike up to the highest point of the island, where a cross and cairn remembers three members of the British Antarctic Survey who died in 1982 attempting to cross the sea ice from Petermann Island to Vernadsky station. There is also a refuge hut built by an Argentinian expedition in 1955 - its red metal walls make a fantastic contrast against the snow and ice.
The area can be superb for Zodiac cruises, especially around the larger icebergs grounded on the far side of the island, and Humpback Whales often appear in the main channel.
Pleneau Island is one of the less-visited Antarctic visitor sites but is well worth it. First mapped in 1903 by the French Charcot expedition, it’s a beautiful location that overlooks what’s known as an “iceberg graveyard”, with a Zodiac cruise often favoured over a landing (see fascinating facts). Whether viewed from the island itself or from a Zodiac, there are always stunning ‘bergs to photograph here.
The island itself is less than a mile long and lies just off Hovgaard Island in the Wilhelm Archipelago. Pleneau is home to terns, and your expert Antarctic guides will make sure that you avoid disturbing them in the breeding season.
The permanent ice cap at the top of the island looks stunning, but it’s riddled with crevasses and not safe to walk on.
The northern end of the island hosts a breeding colony of Antarctic Shags, and you will almost certainly see penguins and seals among the stunning icebergs.
Portal Point is a narrow, rocky point on the northeast of the Reclus Peninsula off Graham Land. It was named by British explorers as it formed part of the “gateway” for the route to the Antarctic Plateau.
In 1956, a refuge hut was established here, known as Cape Reclus Refuge. It was only used for two winters and then abandoned. In 1996, the hut was removed and is now in the Falklands Island Museum.
All that’s left of the refuge on the Point are the remains of its foundations, often not visible under the frequent snow cover. Indeed, this year-round snow is why there are no penguin colonies here.
However, Portal Point is a popular place for Weddell seals to haul out, and while you are landing you will often see them in good numbers. There is also a small Antarctic Shag colony nearby and the bat is great for Zodiac cruises amongst the icebergs, to enjoy the views of the peninsula, glaciers tumbling down to the bay, look up to the polar plateau, Leopard Seals on ice floes, and the chance to see Humpback Whales.
Port Charcot, Booth Island
Port Charcot is a small bay at the north end of Booth Island. Booth Island is a rocky and rugged Y-shaped island off the Kiev Peninsula in Graham Land. It was first mapped in 1904 when the French Antarctic expedition led by Jean-Baptise Charcot over-wintered here.
After building a few rudimentary shelters and the cairn that can still be seen at the top of the hill, the expedition used Port Charcot as its base for exploring the area, that is close to the Lemaire Channel and the division between the NW and the SW peninsula . There is the remains of a stone hut used for astronomical observations and a wooden pillar with a plaque here where you can still make out the names of the first expedition members who wrote them almost 120 years ago.
In the bay where the Français was anchored (but difficult to reach with the ice) the letter 'F' was carved onto the rocks and can still be seen.
The walk to the cairn is delightful, although you’ll be carefully led by guides as wandering off the path can be treacherous, with loose rocks and crevasses. Visitors can also walk to the east where there is a noisy Gentoo penguin colony. Chinstraps and Adelies can also be seen on the beaches here. If you are lucky, you might get all three together!
From the top the views are stunning, especially the view to the SW, towards Pléneau Island Island, overlooking 'the iceberg graveyard'. This iceberg graveyard can be explored on a spectacular Zodiac cruise, either from ships anchored off Port Charcot to the 'NW' of the Lemaire Channel, or from ships anchored off Pléneau Island and Booth Island that had sailed through through the Lemaire Channel. For full details of this Zodiac cruise refer to the details under Pléneau Island.
South Shetland Islands
The South Shetland Islands are a group of rocky islands only about 75 miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Several countries have research stations on the islands, with most being found on the largest island, King George Island. It’s here, at the Chilean Base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva, that there is a 4000ft runway that sees over 200 flights a year bringing people and supplies to and from the Islands and wider Antarctica.
Most of the islands are covered in ice for much of the year, but they are still home to large populations of Elephant and fur seals, as well as huge numbers of penguins and Antarctic sea birds, being the most diverse area in the whole 'peninsula' region. Frequent encounters here include gentoo, chinstrap (often one of the key species for landings in the South Shetlands), a few Adélie penguins colonies, and the odd Macaroni penguin pair or lone bird. Also Weddell, crabeater, and leopard seals, as well as and orca, humpback, and minke whales, with fin whales, and even southern bottlenose Whales, see on the approach close to the drop off to deeper waters.
Black-browed Albatross do not breed but can be seen, usually offshore in the Southern ocean, but also in the Bransfield Strait.
For such a tiny, rock island (it’s less than half a mile by a quarter of a mile), Stonington holds a lot of the human history of Antarctica. It’s found in Marguerite Bay off the west of Graham Land, and it is one of the most southerly historic sites on the peninsula.
It was home to not one, but two winter expeditions. In 1939, the US Antarctic Service chose it as the location to build what became known as East Base. The buildings and artifacts here are now protected as a monument. Visitors can enter the main hut to experience something of what it would have been like to spend the dark and frozen winters on Stonington.
Later in the 1940s, the British chose the same small island for the location of their “Base E”. Again, visitors can enter the main hut and also the generator shed. Like the American base, there are other ancillary buildings that can’t be entered due to their status as protected monuments. There are permanent shutters on the windows of Base E, so your guide should provide you with torches if you venture inside.
In a solemn reminder of the harshness of the continent, there is also a gravesite where two expedition members are buried in coffins covered by simple stone cairns.
Stonington Island supports a colony of over 130 pairs of Antarctic Shags, as well as nesting sites for skuas and terns. As well as the landing there is a good Zodiac cruise around the island with the head of the nearby glaciers coming down from the polar plateau and to look out for seals and Adelie Penguins on the ice floes.
Later in the season fur seals and Humpback Whales can turn up at this southerly destination.
Torgersen Island is a very small, circular island only 450yds across. It’s part of the Palmer Archipelago and is at the entrance to Arthur Harbour on the southwest coast of Anvers Island.
It’s a popular site for breeding seabirds and Adelie penguins, but this small rock has a much larger, and more depressing, importance.
Although the current colony size of 3,000 breeding pairs seems large, since 1974 the Adelie population has reduced by over 60% due to the impact of climate change on the sea ice and snowfall patterns. An Adelie colony that was based on the neighboring Litchfield Island has disappeared completely in this time. Archeological surveys showed that penguins had been nesting there for over 600 years continuously, with up to 15,000 pairs in residence at a time. By 2007 they had all gone.
The island is very close to the American Palmer Station and it is divided into a Visitor Zone and a Restricted Zone. The Visitor Zone is for general access, whilst the Restricted Zone serves as a control site for scientific research related to human impacts. The Restricted Zone should not be entered, except in an emergency to access the emergency cache located on slopes opposite the landing site. Use the cache only in a genuine emergency and notify Palmer Station if anything is used.
Your expert Antarctic guides will show you the walking routes to take that will minimize any impact to the Adelie colony on Torgersen Island, as well as outlining the concerns that Antarctic scientists have about the continuing impact of climate change on the region’s wildlife.
This is a timely reminder of the necessity for change in the way humans live and use fossil fuels if we are to preserve the unique species and landscapes of the Antarctic. At Polartours we are playing our part in this story by carbon offsetting every polar cruise package we sell.
Wordie House, Winter Island
Nestled onto the only flat part of Winter Island, Wordie House is a hut built in 1947. It was named by a British Antarctic expedition of the time after James Wordie, who was the chief scientist on Shackleton’s famous 1914 Antarctic exploration. Winter Island is less than 1,000 yards long and is one of the Argentine Islands off the coast of Graham Land.
Before it closed in 1954, the hut was used to take meteorological readings using instruments stored inside special screens, one of which still stands today. These readings were among the most important and longest set of weather data ever recorded about the Antarctic and helped scientists gain a greater understanding of the meteorology of the continent.
Wordie House was made a “Historic Site and Monument” in 1995 and has been looked after by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust since 2009. There are almost 500 original artifacts still on the site, including original cans of coffee, records, pots and pans, plates, and many more £everyday” items. This makes Wordie House a true time capsule from the golden age of Antarctic exploration and scientific research. The hut is now fully weathertight, and work continues on preserving this unique station.
Close to Wordie House there used to be the British Faraday base, the place where researcher's discovered the expanding Ozone hole. When the base was going to close, rather than dismantling this important and historic base (and one of the best bars in Antarctica!), it was given to the Ukraine for one pound!
Visits to Winter Island and Wordie House are managed by the nearby Ukrainian station Vernadsky, and you may well be briefed by the Base Commander or other official before you board your boats for the landing. The visit to Wordie House is often in conjunction with a visit to the base, and the chance to have a vodka and the impressive wooden bar.
The short Zodiac cruise between the two locations passes through some interesting gullies and the chance to check out seals and penguins on small ice floes.
Uniquely for such a historic site, visitors are allowed to roam freely under the supervision of their expert Antarctic guides. They will answer all your questions about the history of the hut, as well as the artifacts that you can find here.
Visitors to Winter Island can also expect to see seabirds such as skuas and kelp gulls, as well as seals and penguins. Humpback Whales are often seen in the more open waters close to the anchorage.
The Yalour Islands (also sometimes called Jalour Islands) are a 1.5-mile long group of small islands and protruding rocks off Cape Tuxen in Graham Land. The islands were discovered and named in 1903 by the French Antarctic expedition led by Charcot.
Most of the Yalour Islands are steep-sided or unsuitable for landing due to sea conditions, but the largest island has some cobbled beaches where you can put ashore.
Visitors come here to make the short climb up from the beach to the Adelie penguin breeding colonies. There are thought to be around 8,000 breeding pairs of Adelies in the Yalour Islands, and they have nested on every bit of rock they can find that’s not snow-covered. It makes for an amazing sight as you come in to land on the beach!
Photographic opportunities here are excellent. The high mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula form a stunning backdrop to shots of the Adelie nest sites. Your expert guides will lead you around, showing you the best sites, and answering all your questions about the penguins and their lives.
As Adelie Penguins have decreased in numbers just to the north at locations like the Petermann Islands, the Yalour Islands have become a popular location to see this species. Even if it is a challenge to get ashore with the swell, or, the snow banks earlier in the season, the colonies are easily observed from a Zodiac. The area can be a good spot for seals, and for Humpback Whales offshore.
This wonderful natural harbor is surrounded by glaciers. It’s an almost perfect safe anchor for ships, which is why it was used by sealers for many years. You enter Yankee Harbour via Shopski Cove, which is between Spit Point and Glacier Bluff on Greenwich Island. You can also look across McFarlane Strait towards Half Moon Island and glaciers and the snow cap across the peaks of Livingstone Island, one the most spectacular islands in the South Shetlands.
Yankee Harbour was used by both American and British sealers from the 1820s onwards. The British called it Hospital Cove. There’s a commemorative plaque here that celebrates Captain Andrew MacFarlane who explored much of the Antarctic Peninsula in 1820.
The other great attraction here is the large Gentoo penguin colony, with over 4,000 breeding pairs making Yankee Harbor their home.
The landing beach here is terraced, and there is a melt-pool from the glacier on the eastern end. Depending on the conditions and breeding status of the penguins, some longer walks in the area are possible along the curved gravel spit.
As well as the penguins, skuas often nest here - their feathers camouflaging them against the rocky ground. Your guides will make sure you don’t step on any accidentally!