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Antarctic Wildlife

Antarctica's ecosystem is a very delicate balance of land, air and marine species each playing vital roles, and each highly dependent upon the other. The health of this ecosystem is considered key in understanding the effects of global warming. In the past 50 years, the minimum temperature has risen almost 3┬║C (37┬║F). Land species are very sparse, especially flora. Plants are limited to lichens, mosses, algas, mushrooms and two flowering plants. A few types of insects and mites are also present.

The seas around Antarctica is where the diversity is. The entire ecosystem web rests upon on small crustacean, the krill (Euphausiidae spp), which forms the main diet for birds, sea lions and whales. It is the foundation of the Antarctic food chain.

Two classes of mammals are present: seals and whales. Penniped species include:

crabeater seal (foca cangrejera, Lobodon carcinophagus)

fur seal (foca peletera, Arctocephalus gazella)

southern elephant seal (elefante marino, Mirounga leonina)

Weddell seal (foca de Weddell, Leptonychotes weddellii)

leopard seal (foca leopardo, Hydrurga leptonyx)

Ross seal (foca de Ross, Ommatophoca Rossii)

Cetaceans are not permanent residents. They come only in summer. Their ranks include:

blue whale (ballena azul, Balaenoptera musculus)

fin whale (ballena de aleta, Balaenoptera physalus)

Sei whale (ballena boba, Balaenoptera borealis)

Minke whale (ballena enana, Balaenoptera acutorostrata )

humpback whale (ballena jorobada, Megaptera novaeangliae)

southern right whale (ballena franca del sur, Eubalaena Australis )

sperm whale (cachalote, Physeter macrocephalus)

killer whale (Orca, Orcinus orca)

The entire area around Antarctica has been declared an International Whale Sanctuary.

Birds form the largest fauna group. Penguins represent 90 percent of the avifauna in Antarctica. Of the 17 species worldwide, seven are found here:

Emperor (Ping├╝ino Emperador, Aptenodytes forsteri)

King (Ping├╝ino Rey, Aptenodytes patagonicus)

Macaroni (Ping├╝ino de Frente Dorada, Eudyptes chrysolophus)

Rockhopper (Ping├╝ino de Penacho Amarillo, Eudyptes chrysocome)

Adelie (Ping├╝ino de Adelia, Pygoscelis Adeliae)

Gentoo (Ping├╝ino de Pap├║a, Pygoscelis Papua)

Chinstrap (Ping├╝ino de Barbijo, Pygoscelis antarctica)

During warm austral summer months 35 species migratory birds arrive from as far away as the Arctic Circle, 4,000 kilometers (2,440 mi) away. Among these long-distance fliers are various species of albatrosses, petrels, gulls, skuas, the Blue-eyed Shag cormorant (Pygoscelis antarctica) and Snowy Sheathbill (Paloma Antarctica, Chionis alba). Only 19 species reproduce on the icy continent.

Scientists at the Antarctic research station of 40 nations are working on base lines of the flora and fauna populations to understand not only global warming, but also the effects of tourism on the environment there. Despite international conventions, the fishing industry is beginning to impact the Antarctic region. A future danger lies in the tremendous mineral, petroleum and natural reserves that Antarctica is believed to have. A proposal has been presented to prohibit any such exploration for 50 years.










By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

29 Jun 2011




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