The Antarctic continent also happens to be the most remote, inhospitable environment on Earth. Harsh and inaccessible, covered by over 5 million square miles of solid ice, it is the world’s driest & coldest continent. No place on earth provides a more demanding environment for survival.
It is perhaps this that drew me towards the last great wilderness. I was chosen to be a part of the International Antarctic Expedition (IAE). The IAE was an exhilarating, unpredictable and a life-changing experience; the purpose of which was to engage and inspire the next generation of leaders to take responsibility to build resilient communities and in doing so, preserve Antarctica.
Over the course of the two-week expedition, I had a chance to explore spectacular sites across the Antarctic Peninsula. Our ship, the 'Ocean Endeavor' meandered across seas, giving me glimpses of the beauty and vastness of the continent. Antarctica is teeming with some of the most exotic animal species on the planet, all of which have evolved remarkably to thrive in such harsh conditions. While mammals such as whales and seals have a thick layer of fat for insulation, fishes have a naturally occurring anti-freeze in their blood. I had encounters with several species of whales, seals, birds and penguins during the expedition. Here are some of my favorite experiences:
1) Gentoo Penguin
The first thing that comes to most people’s mind when they think of Antarctica is penguins. Of all the Antarctic species, I was most excited to see them. Gentoos are the third largest penguins and are often between two and three feet high. They prefer living along the coast line and are famous for being monogamous, meaning that they pair exclusively to a single mate. Not just that, these birds are at the forefront of gender equality; incubation is shared equally by parents. They are social birds and during their breeding season, they form large groups, or “rookeries”, that include thousands of penguins. Due to moratorium on hunting in the Antarctic, Gentoo Penguins do not fear humans. So, don’t be surprised if one walks up to you to say hi!