Alcyonium paessleri and Clavularia frankliniana are numerically abundant soft corals in the nearshore (12 to 33 m depth) benthic communities of eastern McMurdo Sound. They are much less abundant in western McMurdo Sound where a third species, Gersemia antarctica, co-occurs in low numbers. The body tissues of these three species are comprised mainly of organic material (53 to 70% dry wt), which is primarily dervied from NaOH-soluble protein and refractory material. The energetic contents of the whole-body tissues of A. paessleri, C. frankliniana and G. antarctica are 15.9, 17.3, and 14.5 kJ g-1 dry wt, respectively. The mean biomass per individual is 1.81, 0.008, and 45 g dry wt for each respective species. Based on population densities of 7.3, 1337.3, and 0.04 soft corals m-2 for A. paessleri, C. frankliniana and G. antarctica, respectively, the population energetic densities are estimated to be 210.1, 185.1, and 26.1 kJ m-2. Despite the relatively rich energetic content of the tissue and apparent vulnerability to predators, very little predation occurs on these soft corals. Two potential predators, the antarctic sea stars Perknaster fuscus and Odontaster validus, exhibited significant chemotactic defensive tube-foot retractions to hexane, chloroform, methanol, and aqueous methanol extracts of each soft coral. In addition, wholebody tissue of each soft coral was rejected by the demersal fish Pseudotrematomus bernacchii and the cryopelagic fish Pagothenia borchgrevinki. In contrast, whole soft-coral tissues sequentially extracted in four increasingly polar solvents were readily ingested by these antarctic fishes, indicating that sclerites do not play a significant role in deterring predators. Our results indicate that these antarctic soft corals contain bioactive compounds which deter common predatory seastars and fishes. © 1995 Springer-Verlag.