The Mighty Krill

If you added up the total mass of each of the living animals on our planet, what animal would be the largest in tons? Would your guess be whales, elephants, locusts, squids, or some insect? The answer would be a small animal named Euphausia superba--the Antarctic krill, with a total biomass of some 600 million tons. This small animal which is some 3 centimeters long lives a maximum of seven years, and during its lifetime travels hundreds of miles of open sea and moves thousands of feet vertically through the ocean. Krill are an important part of the food chain in the sea, and may become a vital part of what you and I eat in the not too distant future.

Krill are born as one of some 2000 eggs laid in deep ocean water. The egg sinks slowly deeper into the ocean until it reaches a depth of about a mile below the surface. As it sinks it develops into a six-legged larvae known as a nauplis, but since it is below the surface layers it has a high chance of survival. The nauplis starts swimming back toward the surface, still getting food from its egg sac and shedding layers of shell as it grows. Just as the krill reaches the surface layers it becomes a furcilia--a shrimp-like juvenile with a mouth. It then begins to feed with its primary food item being diatoms, a microscopic plant which has taken sunlight and transformed it into food for the krill. It takes up to four weeks for the nauplis to reach the surface layers, and during that time it has timed its rise instinctively to catch the currents that move at each layer of the ocean so that when it becomes the furcilia it has arrived at the upwelling of the Antarctic Divergence. This is an area of nutrient-rich waters rising from the bottom of the sea, bringing food just when the krill needs to eat.

The timing of this movement is incredibly precise, and the number of krill that do it is incredible. In 1981 a ship known as the RV Melville came across a krill swarm that was 58 square miles in area and 650 feet thick giving some 22 pounds of krill per cubic yard of ocean--perhaps a total of 20 billion pounds of Antarctic krill. Blue whales eat as much as four tons of krill per day, and seals and penguins also thrive on this simple food source. This is the most direct food chain from sunlight to food for higher forms of life on the planet, and humans are just beginning to understand its potential. Soviet trawlers are now harvesting almost a billion pounds of krill which is used to replace meat in many recipes.

Most of us are not even aware that such massive food reserves exist in a place as cold and remote as the Antarctic, but here we have another wonderfully designed form of life which may become a major source of food for humans. God has provided for man in many ways that we are just now learning about, and the krill speaks eloquently to us about how complex and how abundant that planning by God is. Our thanks to Greg Devejian of Albuquerque, NM, for the data that originally appeared in the book The Crystal Desert by David S. Campbell.

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