Thursday, July 18, 2013

Krill Kill

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2013 at 3:48 PM

For weeks, now, beach-goers from Bodega Bay to Newport, Ore., have encountered ribbons of pink bedecking their ocean shorelines. It's krill -- millions of the shrimpy critters, many of them impregnated females. A marine ecologist based in Eureka is trying to pinpoint what's causing this major whale staple to wash ashore in such numbers.
click to enlarge Pacific krill - NOAA FISHERIES
  • NOAA Fisheries
  • Pacific krill

According to Our Ocean, Sea Grant California's web page, Sea Grant Coastal Specialist Joe Tyburczy, along with researchers from NOAA, Humboldt State University and Oregon State University, is going to examine several possible reasons for the beachings, including:

"Winds. Mating swarms of krill at the surface may have been pushed ashore by strong storm winds.

"Low-oxygen waters may have contributed to the mortality event by driving masses of krill to shallower-than-normal waters, where oxygen levels are higher, but the animals are also more vulnerable to wind-driven currents.

"A krill pathogen or parasite could have played some role. Some krill have washed up alive, and there have been many reports of surprisingly little predation by birds."

If it turns out to be a parasite, there's sci-fi-like precedent for such horrors. In 2003, National Geographic reported on the discovery of a "one-celled parasite that causes a grisly and fatal infection in krill. Masses of the parasite grow inside the krill, eat its organs, divide, and then burst out of their host's dead body in search of new victims." Brr, Fringe-worthy chills.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. A story by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat said "[s]cientists and fishermen have noted an abundance of krill this year, drawing a concentration of whales off the Marin and Sonoma coasts and putting hefty salmon on anglers' lines." The PD reported that scientists, including our man Tyburczy, don't expect the die-offs to put a serious dent in the prolific krill's population.
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Heidi Walters

Heidi Walters worked as a staff writer at the North Coast Journal from 2005 to 2015.

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