The Curious Life of Krill
6 x 9
14 photos, 4 illustrations
6 x 9
14 photos, 4 illustrations
Krill-it’s a familiar word that conjures oceans, whales, and swimming crustaceans. Scientists say they are one of most abundant animals on the planet. But when pressed, few people can accurately describe krill or explain their ecological importance. Antarctic krill have used their extraordinary adaptive skills to survive and thrive for millions of years in a dark, icy world far from human interference. But with climate change melting ice caps at the top and bottom of the world, and increased human activity and pollution, their evolutionary flexibility to withstand these new pressures may not be enough.
Eminent krill scientist Stephen Nicol wants us to know more about this enigmatic creature of the sea. He argues that it’s critical to understand krill’s complex biology in order to protect them as the krill fishing industry expands. This account of Antarctic krill-one of the largest of eighty-five krill species-takes us to the Southern Ocean to learn firsthand the difficulties and rewards of studying krill in its habitat. Nicol lays to rest the notion that krill are simply microscopic, shrimplike whale food but are in fact midway up the food chain, consumers of phytoplankton and themselves consumed by whales, seals, and penguins. From his early education about the sex lives of krill in the Bay of Fundy to a krill tattoo gone awry, Nicol uses humor and personal stories to bring the biology and beauty of krill alive. In the final chapters, he examines the possibility of an increasingly ice-free Southern Ocean and what that means for the fate of krill-and us.
Ocean enthusiasts will come away with a newfound appreciation for the complex ecology of a species we have much to learn from, and many reasons to protect.
"The book is an ode to Antarctic krill... [Its] conversational...style makes you feel as if you’re part of an engaging dinnertime conversation."
"Marine scientist Nicol's passion for krill...certainly comes across...those seeking a very accessible entry point to marine biology and conservation will find it here."
"Few scientists delight in the subjects of their study with the renaissance manner of Nicol. In The Curious Life of Krill, Nicol combines science, philosophy, art, and conservation to tell a deeply personal story of his life's work: Antarctic krill. He does so with insight, humor, and engaging, accessible prose that encourages us to think bravely and broadly about how to look after our world. For this we should be deeply grateful."
Nick Gales, Director, Australian Antarctic Division
"An essential reflection on an essential set of creatures. With wit and hard-earned wisdom, Stephen Nicol reveals how krill drive the ecosystems at the bottom of the world and how, in an era of profound climate change, they require our most careful attention."
Paul Greenberg, Correspondent for Frontline's "The Fish on My Plate," and author of "Four Fish" and "American Catch"
"Krill expert Stephen Nicol transports us to the world of one of the ocean's most important, least-understood creatures. A krill is indeed curious: its ability to shrink when short of food, its intricate relationship with Antarctic sea ice, and its critical role in great-whale ecosystems. Read this book and you will understand our human relationship with krill, and feel that you have swum with it through Antarctic seas."
David Agnew, Director of Science, Marine Stewardship Council
Chapter 1 Oceans of Krill
Chapter 2 Going with the Floes
Chapter 3 Labors of Love
Chapter 4 Bringing Krill to Life
Chapter 5 Antarctic Fast Food
Chapter 6 Eating Krill
Chapter 7 Conventional Approaches
Chapter 8 Krill Futures
About the Author
As I watched, mesmerized, this mass of crustaceans became a living brick-red raft, writhing on top of the water’s surface. The water became disturbed as thousands of krill flipped their muscular tails and leaped clear of the water, falling back like a shower of pink raindrops.
So begins the journey that cemented Stephen Nicol’s passion for krill. Now, after studying the crustacean for nearly 40 years, Nicol wants us to know more about this enigmatic and vitally important creature of the sea. In The Curious Life of Krill, he debunks the myth that krill are simply microscopic whale food and immerses readers in a dark and icy world full of wonder and surprises. Read on for eight surprising words that describe this misunderstood species.
1. Copious. Antarctic krill may be the most abundant animal on earth. By weight, there could be more krill on the planet than humans.
2. Average. Krill are not tiny, microscopic zooplankton. They are average-sized marine animals, weighing about a gram and growing to 6 centimeters in length. Their size usually shocks first-time viewers who expect them to be much smaller.
3. Beautiful. Krill are mostly transparent but can blush brick-red when stressed. They can also put on a spectacular light show when stimulated using their many blue light organs. Their underlying color depends in part on their diet: krill can be dark green in the spring when they are gorging on algae but become less verdant during the rest of the year.
4. Cool. Antarctic krill, not surprisingly, are only found in the icy waters around Antarctica. Water temperatures above five degrees Celsius cook krill. Their habitat is covered by ice for much of the year and their young depend on plants that grow on or in the ice.
5. Geriatric. Krill can reach the ripe old age of 12 years. They grow by moulting but if food is in short supply they can shrink in length. This confuses scientist’s attempts to work out how old individual krill are because small krill are not always young krill.
6. Sociable. Krill live in vast swarms or schools that can stretch for tens of kilometers. Curiously, living in such large, obvious aggregations makes life safer for individual krill but it does mean that bulk feeders such as whales can eat millions of krill in a single mouthful.
7. Nutritious. Vast numbers of penguins, seals and whales survive on a diet of Antarctic krill and grow and reproduce at amazing rates. The nutritional value (and abundance) of krill also means that they are currently fished to produce food for farmed fish.
8. Commercial. Antarctic krill have been commercially fished for over 40 years. The current catch of approximately 200,000 tons/year makes it one of the world’s largest crustacean fisheries, but this level of catch is less than five percent of the estimated sustainable level of harvest.
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.