Spotting of World's Largest Iceberg Highlights Krill Crisis

dinsdag, 06 Feb, 2024

On the 27th of January 2024, the Sea Shepherd ship Allankay navigated past the world’s largest iceberg, named A23a, as it drifts north between the Antarctic Peninsula and Coronation Island, where Sea Shepherd crew are shadowing six supertrawlers capturing krill, a small crustacean that is a foundation species of the Antarctic ecosystem and the primary food sources for baleen whales such as fin and humpback whales.

The A23a in the distance seen from the Allankay. Photo by Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.

It took Allankay more than eight hours to motor past the frozen walls of the gargantuan iceberg—nearly 4,000 sq kilometers in size and three times the size of New York City—as crew sought shelter from heavy weather that made monitoring the krill fishery impossible.

A23a is ocean bound while record warm temperatures have resulted in the lowest levels of sea ice recorded around the Antarctic continent. Juvenile krill are entirely dependent on sea ice for shelter and food, feeding on algae that grows beneath the sea ice. They have a limited temperature tolerance.

It’s believed that by 2100, krill numbers could halve due to climate change alone.

“A23a is a monument to the threat that climate change poses to krill populations, a towering reminder of why it’s critically important to ban the krill fishery. The krill fishery produces unnecessary products that nobody needs, while adding a needless threat to the Antarctic ecosystem that compounds the damage already being wrought by warming waters in polar regions”, said Captain Bart Schulting who is in command of the Allankay.

The effects on species that depend on krill for their survival are already being felt with humpback whale pregnancies down and chinstrap penguin populations reduced by 53% over the past forty years. The body mass of fur seals has declined by almost 10% over the past three decades due to a reduction in available krill to eat.

“The krill fishery makes a bad problem worse, increasing pressure on Antarctic wildlife. It is incumbent upon us to remove every other additional risk factor facing krill, so that the ecosystem has increased resilience to withstand climate pressures."

Idoia Chicoy, Marine biologist and Second Officer on the Allankay

When weather improves, Allankay will reengage with the krill fishing fleet.

Crew from thirteen nationalities are represented on board Allankay: The Netherlands, Australia, Spain, United States, Czech Republic, South Africa, Belgium, Ireland, Canada, Germany, Israel, the United Kingdom, France and Switzerland.

A23a: the world's largest iceberg. Photo by Youenn Kerdavid/Sea Shepherd.