(c) Shannon Lyday/NOAA

How the exploitation of Antarctic krill for dietary supplements poses a big threat to whales

The new report Krill, Baby, Krill by our colleagues at Changing Markets Foundation investigates the main culprits responsible for the plundering of the cornerstone species of the Antarctic food web – krill. 

It reveals that leading retailers are routinely selling dietary supplements and farmed fish produced using Antarctic krill.

But krill is the vital base of the Antarctic food chain, sustaining penguins, seals and whales. Without krill, all species will suffer. Where will the whales be if their food supply in their primary feeding grounds is destroyed by industrial krill fishing? This is an issue very close to EIA’s heart.

Krill fishing jeopardises the future of krill and all those predators that feed on them, including blue, fin, humpback and minke whales. These whales travel across ocean basins from warmer breeding grounds to feed in rich and productive Antarctic waters each year. For example, most Antarctic blue whales feed mainly on krill for six months each summer and this sustains them for their journey thousands of kilometres to warmer winter breeding grounds, where they do not feed at all.

Whale populations in the Antarctic are still recovering from decades of overhunting – in 1997, Antarctic blue whales were at only 0.9 per cent of their pre-exploitation level, before hunting began.

The additional impact of climate change is severe in Antarctica and krill, like whales, play an important role in mitigating climate impacts. In addition, increasing ocean temperatures and significant reductions in Antarctic sea ice are driving marine species towards the poles, reducing their available habitat and exacerbating the threat.

The combination of the threats from industrial fishing of the whales prey and climate change is very concerning.

As well as stealing the whales’ food supply, there is a very real threat to whales through entanglement in krill fishing gear; three humpback whales were entangled and died in Antarctic krill suction trawlers in 2021.

Krill, Baby, Krill calls for an immediate moratorium on krill fishing and for retailers to stop selling krill-based products. Aquafeed manufacturers and salmon farmers should phase out the use of krill (and wild-caught fish, in general).

We also need to protect the moratorium on commercial whaling and adopt a long-term vision for the International Whaling Commission, to protect Antarctic whales and allow them to recover.