Environment
5:40 am
Thu April 28, 2011

Less Ice = More Krill = More Whales

Ari Friedlaender with Humpback whale in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica
Ari Friedlaender with Humpback whale in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica
Credit Alison Stimpert, University of Hawaii

  Duke scientists are finding record numbers of humpback whales feeding on krill on the Western Antarctic Peninsula. A new report shows scientists observed more than 300 whales in a bay in May 2009. Scientists say a sheet of ice should have prevented whales from feeding on krill by that time of year. But Duke’s Ari Friedlaender says climate change is shortening the winter season and ice is forming slowly. So the krill are exposed for feeding.

Ari Friedlaender: "What we’re finding is that as the winter conditions get pushed farther and farther back into the season, these animals that don’t have to migrate just aren’t."

If the whales continue to feed into the winter, Friedlaender says the krill population could be affected. Scientists have already observed a drop in krill population over the last 30 years. The Duke team will return to the bay in 2012 to observe penguin and seal populations—the two other predators that rely on krill.