Save the krill!

The conservation movement is full of organizations whose stated goal is to protect  specific organisms (i.e. “save the whales” or “save the sea turtles”) or to protect certain ecosystems (i.e. “save the rain forest” or “save the coral reef”). While these groups do admirable work, I can’t help put notice that they primarily focus on charismatic, likable organisms and ecosystems that are considered beautiful. The reason for this is simple- it’s easier to get the public to support conserving these things.  Any conservation is a good thing, but when we focus exclusively on what we like instead of what’s important to the environment, it can lead to ecological disaster. That’s why I was so excited to learn of the existence of the “save the krill” movement.

What’s a krill, you ask? According to the Pew Antarctic Krill Conservation Project:

“Encompassing more than 80 species of open-ocean creatures scientifically classified as Euphausiids, Antarctic krill are about 2 ½ inches long (6 centimeters) and weigh 0.07 ounces or roughly two grams.”

Image from SUNY Stonybrook's Marine Science Research Center

Krill aren’t terribly charismatic, and they certainly aren’t as beautiful as many coral reef fish (although certain SFS writers believe that Hagfish are beautiful, so I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder). Why should we care about them?

Well, for one thing, there’s a lot of them.

“Krill are one of the world’s most abundant multi-celled animals…collectively thought to be one of the largest aggregations of marine life on the planet. Krill spend most of their 5-7 year life span in huge schools or “swarms,” living in concentrations so dense and vast that they cover kilometers in every direction with as many as 30,000 krill per cubic meter. Estimates of the total weight of Antarctic krill range from 50 to 500 million metric tonnes.”

This high biomass makes them ecologically very important. They are the main source of food for many species of penguins, whales, albatrosses, fish, and seals. The same biomass has attracted another predator- human fishermen (it is primarily sold as fish feed for the aquaculture industry).

Fishing for krill has drastically increased in the last decade. According to Antarctic Krill Conservation Project director Gerald Leape, ““Krill catches in the Southern Ocean have doubled in the last three years, already surpassing 200,000 tons in this year alone, and there’s no sign of it slowing down.”

The AKCP is calling for the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (which includes delegates from 25 nations) to make serious management changes to the krill fishery. These changes include increasing the frequency of stock assessments (the last was more than ten years ago) and requiring scientific observers on all krill fishing vessels.

They have created a photo petition website to draw attention to the plight of krill, which, as of this posting, has pictures from more than 10,000 people. Please learn more about this important conservation issue by visiting the AKCP website.



  1. Greg Wells · October 22, 2010

    Great post! We have a similar effort underway in New England to protect one of the most abundant and important prey fishes in the Northwest Atlantic – Atlantic herring. Similar to krill, they are not at all charismatic and not particularly popular as food (although I find them quite tasty!), but they do support a whole host of species on the Northeastern shelf, including the fish we love to eat and the whales, dolphins and seabirds we love to watch. Now if we can just return to catching them in a more sustainable manner and adopt measures that minimize bycatch and avoid unnecessary waste of marine life, we’d be a lot better off.

  2. Mina · October 24, 2010

    Awww, they are cute! Bigger than I expected, too. Heading right over to that website now.

  3. Ted Lamb · April 2, 2011

    Hello – Phil Krill Saves the World publishes on Amazon Kindle Monday April 4: it’s a saga you can read to kids (cover image supplied if you send email address). A review/publicity would be very welcome! See below:
    Krill versus Mankind … an epic battle

    The chips are down and the fish are in for it, not to mention the whole planet. One tiny uber-cool hero arises to take on the mighty challenge – Phil Krill. With the help of shipwrecked cabin boy Ned, his fellow krill and legendary lord of the sea Neptune, daring decapod Phil is determined greedy mankind will not thoughtlessly destroy the world and everything in it. But can he succeed against immense odds?
    Phil Krill Saves the World, a saga by fishing writer Ted Lamb (The Penguin Book of Fishing, The Bait Book) is currently available only as an Amazon Kindle book (visit for details or go direct to and follow links to books, Kindle e-books).

    (copyright free extract below)
    When at last Ned awoke a mermaid fair
    with eyes as blue as the skies
    was gently combing his tangled red hair
    a tender look in her eyes.

    My red-headed one is alive, she sang,
    Now my beauty he’ll discover.
    and if only he had a nice long tail
    Oh, I’d like him to be my lover.

    “Where am I?” asked Ned – convinced he was dead
    and had come to heaven for sure,
    “You are safe,” she said, “now rest your poor head
    while I tell Phil you’re with us once more.”

    How gratefully Ned thanked his little friend
    as was only fittingly so,
    “I’d never have thought a prawn would do this!”
    But Phil’s little shoulders slumped low…

    “I’m not a prawn, though their kind I don’t scorn,”
    Phil told the puzzled lad,
    “I’m a krill – can’t you tell by my brindled shell?”
    He started to look very sad.

    Krill? The word shook Ned. How could he say
    the Jocasta’s mission that fateful day
    had been to search the seas for krill
    ahead of a fleet … then move in for the kill!

    But tell he must, it was only right
    after being snatched from a terrible plight
    “I must warn you,” he said. “You must all take flight,
    you’re in trouble! You really must go…”

    “Trouble – what do you mean?” asked Phil,
    patting the patient’s head.
    “Oh dear,” thought Ned, “when they hear my tale
    I’m probably better off dead…”

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