Diving beneath the ice offers an ambience filled with bright blue water, crystal-clear visibility and spectacular photo opportunities. Along with an unrivaled sense of exploration, there’s also the chance to encounter cold water marine life rarely seen in other climates — here are six of our favourites:
Antarctic Fur Seals
One of nine fur species worldwide, the Antarctic fur seal can be found in the chilly waters of the Antarctic Convergence, with 95% of the population calling St Georgia home. Named (and wanted) for their thick fur, they were almost hunted to extinction during the 19th Century. They have a rather cute appearance with small visible ears, and use their flippers when walking across land.
Emperors are the largest (and arguably most popular) penguin species, endemic to the Antarctic with populations estimated to be around 600,000. They can dive as deep as 500m (1,600ft) for 20 minutes — the deepest of any bird — and are famed for their epic survival techniques in one of the world’s harshest landscapes.
Found in the North Atlantic Ocean (from Scandinavia to Maine), these unique critters prefer to live alone in deep, dark caves up to 500m (1,600ft) below the surface. Wolffish use their formidable teeth to crush prey (like molluscs, crabs and urchins), and even produce a natural ‘antifreeze’ protein to help keep their blood pumping in the ice-cold surroundings.
Killer Whale (aka Orca)
With instantly recognisable black and white markings, these are the largest member of the dolphin family. They are highly intelligent, accomplished hunters; they have even been seen making waves and throwing themselves onto ice to snatch seals for dinner. Read about PADI AmbassaDiver Birgitta Mueck’s Norwegian encounter here.
The biggest fish in the Arctic, these slow-moving sharks have an estimated lifespan of 200 years. Their bodies contain trimethylamine oxide (TMAO) which regulates pressure and prevents freezing — pretty useful since they cruise between the surface and 2,200m (7,200ft) deep. For that reason, sightings are very rare — but lucky divers could just be in the right place, at the right time!
Giant Pacific Octopus
These eight-armed giants live in the North Pacific and, like other octopuses, are extremely clever and adept at camouflage — changing colour in 1/10th of a second. Despite being only the size of a grain of rice after hatching, they’ve been known to reach up to 10m (30ft) in size; it’s no wonder they prompted sailors’ tales of mythical creatures!