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A team of researchers from the IDEAL Center found the crustaceans in the elephant sector, in the vicinity of the Escudero Base.

Chilean scientists discover mass die-off of krill in Antarctica

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Thursday, January 31, 2019, 21:30 (GMT + 9)

A group of scientists and divers from the Center for the Dynamic Investigation of Marine Ecosystems of High Latitudes (IDEAL) of the Austral University of Chile (UACh) found a massive quantity of krill washing ashore in the vicinity of Escudero Base, in Antarctica.

Krill is considered the key link of the trophic webs of the white continent, because it is a source of food for various species of marine ecosystems, including seals, penguins and whales.

The finding was made within the framework of the Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ECA) 55 in the elephant sector in Bahía Fildes, Isla Rey Jorge, Antarctic Peninsula.

The team of scientists proceeded immediately to evaluat krill biomass and extract samples. After that, in Escudero Base Laboratories, the researchers analyzed the crustaceans stomachs, in which they found a large amount of sand grains, which implies that the krill was in an environment with particles in suspension.

"It is a punctual event and the interesting thing will be to continue monitoring these beachings to see if this is frequent. It is important to determine, for example, what is the ecological subsidy of this concern to seabirds," explains Dr. Miguel Pardo, researcher at the Ideal center and one of the team members.

The scientific literature indicates that, in general, crustacean wash ashore due to hypoxia (low oxygen) or to phenomena such as excess sediment in suspension and changes in water temperature.

Specimen of a large skua (skua) taking advantage of the washed ashore krill. (Photo: IDEAL)

As regards krill, specifically, several previous investigations determined that this phenomenon is related to the excess sediment in the water column, where the animal lives.

"The melting of the glaciers generates a greater quantity of suspended sediments and, therefore, if there is greater melting of the glaciers one could expect a higher frequency of varades. However, it would be very risky to say that this was the cause of this specific event. You have to be prudent and investigate," concludes Dr. Pardo.

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