Scientists using a submersible remotely operated vehicle (ROV) have discovered Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) living and feeding down to depths of 3,500 metres in the Southern Ocean waters around the Antarctic Peninsula. Until now this shrimp-like crustacean was thought to live only in the upper ocean. The discovery completely changes scientists’ understanding of the major food source for fish, squid, penguins, seals, and whales.
Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) used a
deep-diving, remotely operated vehicle (RoV) known as Isis to film
previously unknown behavior of krill.The Cambridge-based British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is a world leader in
research into global environmental issues. With five Antarctic Research
Stations, two Royal Research Ships and five aircraft.
Professor Andrew Clarke of the British Antarctic Survey said, “While most krill make their living in the ocean’s surface waters, the new findings revise significantly our understanding of the depth distribution and ecology of Antarctic krill. It was a surprise to observe actively-feeding adult krill, including females that were apparently ready to spawn, close to the seabed in deep water.”
"This is first time that anyone has looked down there with a camera," says Clarke, who led the team. "There have been cameras taken down in Antarctic waters before but they have never gone this deep."
"The pictures were taken in January, which is in the second half of
the Antarctic summer," Clarke says. He believes that the Antarctic
krill (Euphausia superba) dive down to the Antarctic abyss to follow
the phytoplankton they feed on.
"There's a phytoplankton bloom in December and early January," he says, "and as it matures, those single-celled plants flocculate, forming great lumps of gunge that rain down onto the ocean floor."
Finding krill living at such depths suggests they must have an "extremely flexible" physiology to withstand the huge water pressure on the ocean floor, notes Clarke. "I'm not sure I can think of any other organisms that would routinely travel such distances over that pressure gradient."
Magnus Johnson of the University of Hull, UK, agrees. "On one of my voyages, we brought an anemone up from the deep," he says. "At depth it looked fantastic but at the surface it fell apart – it just turned into snot. It's amazing that these krill can function at 3,000 metres as well as they can at 10 meters."
Posted by Casey Kazan.
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