Snow survivors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2009, 12:00am

Earth's frosty poles

Although the Arctic and Antarctic are famous for snow and ice, the two regions are quite different from each other.

The Arctic Ocean lies in the centre of the Arctic Circle, which surrounds the North Pole. The land around it is free from ice most of the year. In summer, the temperature can reach 35 degrees Celsius - just like in Hong Kong.

In summer, grass, moss and small plants grow. This is called tundra.

Bears, deer, foxes, rabbits, wolves, walruses, sea lions, birds and other animals live on the land. Whales, narwhal, salmon and fish live in the sea.

But when the temperature drops to minus 62 degrees Celsius in winter, many polar animals travel south.

The continent of Antarctica lies at the centre of the Antarctic Circle, which surrounds the South Pole. It has huge mountains covered with snow and ice all year round.

In winter, it is between minus 57 degrees and minus 90 degrees. In the summer, only the coast warms up a little. Top summer temperatures are about 15 degrees.

In summer, moss and small plants grow along the coast. There are penguins and seals on the beaches, and fish, whales and sharks in the sea, but there are very few people.

True or false?

1 It's colder in Antarctica than the Arctic.

2 A continent lies in the centre of the Arctic Circle.

3 A sea lies in the centre of the Antarctic Circle.

Polar bears: kings of the ice fields

Find words that mean: on Earth, chase, jumps, guards

Polar bears live in Arctic ice fields. They are the biggest bears in the world. Adult polar bears are 2.5m tall and weigh 500kg.

Polar bears spend a lot of time in the water. This is because they love to hunt seals. They sit next to holes in the ice, waiting for a seal to come up for air. When it does, the bear pounces on it. Polar bears will also eat reindeer, fish and even berries.

They stay in the Arctic all year round. They don't get cold because they have very thick fur all over their bodies. Even the soles of their feet are furry. Polar bears also have a 10cm layer of fat that protects them from the cold.

Penguins: waiters of the bird world

Find the antonyms, words that mean the opposite of: unafraid, pull, smallest, bad

Penguins can't fly but they are part of the bird family. There are 17 species of penguin living in and near the Antarctic.

The emperor penguin is the biggest. It is 122cm tall and weighs 40kg. The smallest is the fairy penguin. It is 35cm tall and weighs 1kg.

Penguins are very good swimmers. They swim so quickly they look like they are flying under water.

Little penguins eat krill. Bigger penguins eat fish and squid.

But penguins are so scared of sharks, they won't jump into the water unless another penguin is already swimming. They line up on the beach and try to push each other in order to avoid being first.

Beautiful harp seals

Choose the correct word

Harp seals live in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. They hunt fish and also eat crabs and other reptiles/crustaceans.

Harp seals have quite a lot of predators/prey. Polar bears, killer whales, sharks and walruses all like to eat this seal.

But the biggest enemy is mankind. Thousands of harp seals are drowned in fishermen's boats/nets every year.

Hunters also kill these mammals for their fur/wool. In 1945, there were about 3 million harp seals. By 1970, hunters had killed so many that less than half survived.

Today there are limits on how many harp seals may be killed each year. A survey in 1994 showed numbers were back up to 4.5 million.

Polar animals In Hong Kong

We are too far away to see polar animals on our beaches and in our seas. However, a few cold water visitors sometimes drop by.

Keep an eye out for the killer whale and its cousin the false killer whale. They eat fish but also kill dolphins, seals, and sometimes gang up on other whale species.

Whales are rare but there have been unconfirmed sightings of the common minke whale and the fin whale. The rare Bryde's whale also occasionally appears in deep waters.

For guaranteed views of polar animals, try Ocean Park. You can see sea lions, dolphins, sharks, penguins and killer whales there in settings similar to their real homes. And if you like to watch animals perform tricks, visit Ocean Theatre to see sea lions perform.

fab fact!

In the Arctic Circle, the sun shines all day on June 21 or 22. In the Antarctic Circle, the sun shines all day on December 21 or 22


Deserts are areas with less than 25cm of rain per year. The Antarctic is actually the world's biggest desert. The Arctic is second. The Sahara, the Arabian and the Gobi deserts are ranked third, fourth and fifth

fab fact!

Tribes like the Inuit, Nenets, Sami and Yukaghirs live in the Arctic for part of each year. But the Antarctic is so cold and dangerous that only a few people visit during the summer

now do this

Try to answer the following questions without referring to the text

1 The Arctic has ...

a. freezing summers.

b. cold summers.

c. warm summers.

2 Antarctica is covered in ...

a. snowy mountains.

b. snow covered fields.

c. fields of tundra.

3 Harp seals live in ...

a. the Arctic.

b. the Antarctic.

c. both the Arctic and Antarctic.

4 Polar bears live in ...

a. the Arctic.

b. the Antarctic.

c. both the Arctic and Antarctic.

5 A July day in the Arctic has ...

a. no sun at all.

b. a little sun.

c. lots of sun.

6 Penguins are ...

a. mammals.

b. birds.

c. marsupials.

Go online for more about polar animals


Arctic maps according to temperature, tree line, Arctic Circle etc, plus articles discussing Arctic weather, history, geography, animals and plants.

Life on Antarctica

Find out what animals live here, who the first human explorers were and much more about this mysterious continent.

Animals and Birds in the Arctic and Antarctic

Check out penguins, polar bears, whales, albatrosses, squid and seals. Click on the image links for slide shows.


Quiz: 1. c, 2. a, 3. a, 4. a, 5. c, 6. b

True or false: 1. true, 2. false, 3. false

Harp seals: crustaceans, prey, nets, fur

Polar bears: in the world, hunt, pounces, protects

Penguins: scared, push, biggest, good




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