Antarctic Peninsula & Weddell Sea

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Iceberg Rothera Station, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica.
© WWF-Canon / Cassandra PHILLIPS

About the Area

Antarctic Peninsula & Weddell Sea make up the most diverse and productive Antarctic marine ecosystem. In the Antarctic Peninsula , the southern summer large ice-free areas provide breeding grounds for very large numbers of seabirds and seals.

The Weddell Sea is part of the Southern Ocean. Much of the southern part of the sea, up to Elephant Island, is permanent ice, the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf. At its widest the sea is around 2,000 km across, in area it is around 2.8 million km².

The Weddell Sea supports a rich marine ecosystem, where huge quantities of krill (tiny shrimp-like animals) provide food for diverse populations of fish and marine mammals. It also supports thriving colonies of penguins that lay their eggs and raise their young on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Size:
N/A

Habitat type:

Polar

Geographic Location:
Antarctic Peninsula and Weddell Sea

Conservation Status:
Relatively Stable/Intact

Local Species

Over 200 species of fish from various groups are known to live in Antarctica, many of which are endemic. Most of these belong to the Notothenioidei suborder and include the families of Nototheniidae, Harpagiferidae, Artedidraconidae, Bathydraconidae, and Channichthyidae or the "bloodless fishes".

Other species include King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus), Emperor penguin (A. forsteri), Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii), Crabeater seal (Lobodon carcinophagus), Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis), Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), and Hourglass dolphin (Lagenorhynchus cruciger).

Featured species

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Wim VAN PASSEL
Weddell's seal (Leptonychotes weddelli).
© WWF-Canon / Wim VAN PASSEL
Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii)

Weddell Seals are known for their very deep dives -- which may reach some 700 meters. They can also hold their breath for approximately 80 minutes. They are not very social out of water, even avoiding physical contact at most times.

Copulation has only been observed to occur underwater, where the female is often bitten in the neck by her partner. Play fighting is very common for these animals as they grow. The diet of the Weddell Seal consists of squids, notothenid fishes, as well as Antarctic toothfish. This seal lives further south than any other mammal, inhabiting the waters of McMurdo Sound, 800 miles from the South Pole. These relatively meek animals are usually found in large groups on ice attached to the continent and can be easily approached by humans.

Read more:

Threats

The future of Antarctica is crucial to the climate and ecology of the world. Overfishing, global warming, the weakening of the ozone layer, and pollution pose the greatest threats to the region.

Warmer temperatures have cleared a tiny patch of bare ground at the Peninsula's tip. Numerous icebergs are breaking out of the sea ice in the Southern Ocean surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula. Icebergs leaving the Weddell Sea are likely to be moved north and east by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.

Read more:
Antarctic Peninsula and Weddell Sea at NASA

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