Whale and Krill Ecology in the Ocean

Whale and Krill Ecology in the Ocean
Antarctic Humpback Whale Feeding on Krill and a Closeup of the Tiny Creature

Now that people are harvesting krill from the ocean for human consumption, ecologists are concerned that we are competing with the whales that eat massive amounts of krill. For example, a blue whale will consume 35,000 pounds of krill in a day, and that would feed a lot of humans. This development requires a better understanding of whale and krill ecology and its effect on other ocean creatures.

Recent studies by Stanford University ecologists have shown that the oceans’ ecosystems are far more complex than we previously understood. For example, the whale consumption of krill is a significant part of the open ocean ecology. Krill contain large amounts of iron. When whales eat the krill, they defecate the iron back into the ocean, releasing it for other life forms.

Phytoplankton must have iron to survive, and they would die without the whales eating the krill. In turn, phytoplankton are critical to many other living things in the ocean, including the krill. For that reason, researchers concluded that more krill existed in the Antarctic Ocean before whaling killed 1.5 million baleen whales between 1910 and 1970. Whales are not just massive food consumers but also a significant factor in preserving life in the sea.

Feeding the human population requires an understanding that every creature has a role in the creation. As we understand whale and krill ecology, we see the delicate balance in the natural world. That evidence of God’s design work reminds us of the importance of biblically-based stewardship of the creation. That biblical perspective is vital to good science and applying science to solve human problems. It’s another example of the compatibility of science and faith. They are friends, not enemies, and must work together to benefit us all.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Wildlife magazine, June-July 2022, page 10 and Stanford.edu

Ultimate Food Source

Ultimate Food Source - Antarctic Krill
One of the great necessities that a planet must have to support life is an ultimate food source that everything can eat. It must be highly nutritious, exist over a long time, and have very little waste. Modern oceanography has uncovered such a food source in an unlikely place. They found it in the frigid Antarctic ocean waters. The form of life is a small shrimp-like creature called Antarctic krill (Euphasia superba).

The amazing thing about these creatures is their abundance. Scientists found one swarm that covered several square miles and ranged in depth from 60 to 600 feet (12 to 180 m). They estimated the total weight of this one swarm is 10 million metric tons. That is equivalent to one-seventh of the entire planet’s weight of fish and shellfish caught in a whole year. It would amount to 98 pounds for every person in the United States.

Krill are rich in protein and have negligible bone and shell material. They consume microscopic animal and plant organisms as their primary food. Krill are near the bottom of the ocean food chain providing food directly or indirectly to everything in the ocean, including whales.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography did the original studies of this particular swarm. Data from other oceanographic research ships show that krill swarms are common in the ocean. Since they can even be turned into food for humans, Antarctic krill seem to be God’s ultimate food source for all living things on this planet.
–John N. Clayton © 2018