From 2000 through 2007, SoMAS Assistant Professor Joseph Warren and colleagues from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center conducted the first multi-year survey of the population of Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) in the shallow coastal waters near Livingston Island, Antarctica.
Antarctic krill are tiny shrimp-like organisms that are an integral part of the Southern Ocean food chain. Krill are an important food resource for penguins, seals, and some whales in the Southern Ocean, and are harvested for use in aquaculture feed and human dietary supplements.
Because large research vessels cannot safely travel in shallow, nearshore waters, Dr. Warren’s small boat survey was the first to characterize the population of krill in previously inaccessible waters.
With funding provided by the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs and the United States Antarctic Marine Living Resources program, Dr. Warren and Dr. David Demer, leader of the Advanced Survey Technologies Program at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, conducted six acoustic surveys to examine the abundance and distribution of Antarctic krill in coastal waters within several miles of shore. Deploying their scientific equipment from a 6 m inflatable boat, Warren and Demer were able to carry out their measurements in water ranging from 500 to 2 m in depth. They compared their observations in the nearshore waters with those from offshore surveys of the western Scotia Sea conducted during the same year.
The researchers discovered that nearshore waters had significantly higher krill biomass density than offshore waters. They also found that the nearshore waters had less interannual variation than offshore waters. These findings were published in the July issue of the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.
“Nearshore krill biomass is generally most accessible and attractive to land-breeding predators as well as to human fishers competing for this valuable resource,” said Dr. Warren. “Although the spatial area of our nearshore survey is quite small when compared with that of the entire Scotia Sea, the high and stable densities of krill in shallow water may be more important ecologically than the offshore krill,” he said.
Read more about Dr. Warren’s 2010 Antarctic research by visiting the cruise blog at Tagging Whales in the Antarctic Sea.