Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Ups and Downs of Krill

A story released this week notes that there was an unusual krill bonanza in the West Antarctic Peninsula area in 2009, leading to (naturally) a sharp increase in the number of humpback whales usually seen in the area. The region where the whales were feeding usually has a lot more sea ice at the time of year scientists studied the krill and their whale groupies, but since the Peninsula is getting warmer, there wasn't as much sea ice as usual. That means that whales could access the area and feed on krill normally covered by sea ice. Does this mean warming is good for whales? Unfortunately, no:

"The lack of sea ice is good news for the whales in the short term, providing them with all-you-can-eat feasts as the krill migrate vertically toward the bay's surface each night. But it is bad news in the long term for both species, and for everything else in the Southern Ocean that depends on krill," says Ari S. Friedlaender, co-principal investigator on the project and a research scientist at Duke.

Another bonus, according to Rodolfo Werner (who works with Pew on the Antarctic Krill Conservation Project, which ASOC also works on) is that researchers were able to gather information on how much krill the whales were eating. Information of this kind is sorely needed to regulate krill fishing in a way that protects whales, seals, penguins, and other krill predators.

Enjoy the good eating while you can, whales! We humans are busily working on making sure the climate keeps heating up.

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