Rapid warming in the highly productive western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) region of the Southern Ocean has affected multiple trophic levels, yet viral influences on microbial processes and ecosystem function remain understudied in the Southern Ocean. Here we use cultivation-independent quantitative ecological and metagenomic assays, combined with new comparative bioinformatic techniques, to investigate double-stranded DNA viruses during the WAP spring-summer transition. This study demonstrates that (i) temperate viruses dominate this region, switching from lysogeny to lytic replication as bacterial production increases, and (ii) Southern Ocean viral assemblages are genetically distinct from lower-latitude assemblages, primarily driven by this temperate viral dominance. This new information suggests fundamentally different virus-host interactions in polar environments, where intense seasonal changes in bacterial production select for temperate viruses because of increased fitness imparted by the ability to switch replication strategies in response to resource availability. Further, temperate viral dominance may provide mechanisms (for example, bacterial mortality resulting from prophage induction) that help explain observed temporal delays between, and lower ratios of, bacterial and primary production in polar versus lower-latitude marine ecosystems. Together these results suggest that temperate virus-host interactions are critical to predicting changes in microbial dynamics brought on by warming in polar marine systems.