Antarctic krill availability in the Southern Ocean

Investigating the availability of Antarctic krill to large predators and their role in Southern Ocean biogeochemical recycling.
Voyage No


17 Jan, 2019


06 Mar, 2019




Chief Scientist

Dr Michael Double


Australian Antarctic Division

Voyage summary 

Research voyage to Antarctica to investigate the distribution and behaviour of our planet's largest animal, the Antarctic blue whale, and its primary food source, Antarctic krill.

This research will use RV Investigator’s acoustic multibeam technology to map the distribution and structure of krill swarms in locations where blue whales are present and in locations where they are absent. Sonobuoys will be used to locate blue whales, with the movement and behaviour of whales then studied using tracking technologies including drones. Scientists will also investigate the controversial theory of iron fertilisation of the ocean by whales (via whale faeces). This investigation aims to determine whether whale faeces stimulates local production and alters phytoplankton community structure and growth.

The voyage includes only the primary research project but involves significant international collaboration.

The science team on this voyage includes 40 participants from nine institutions, including three Australian and three international universities. 

Voyage blog:The thrill of the krill: giant super-organisms captured in 3D

For the first time on an Australian research vessel, giant krill swarms are being captured in 3D using state-of-the-art echosounder technology in the Southern Ocean. A live krill swarm 400 m long, 200 m across, and 100 m deep has been recorded by a team of scientists from the Australian Antarctic Program on board the CSIRO research vessel Investigator.
Read more on CSIROscope
A close up of three Antarctic krill

Voyage outcomes

For the first time, scientists on this voyage measured and mapped krill swarms in 3D, and examined the relationship between the krill swarms and Antarctic blue whale distribution. The distribution of Antarctic krill was found to be highly variable which is likely due to the temporal and spatial interactions between ocean currents, ice, primary productivity and predation. This voyage generated the highest quality data to date on the relationships between Antarctic krill and Antarctic baleen whales.

Many of the factors that influence the distribution, density, form and behaviour of Antarctic krill have previously been poorly understood. Data collected during this voyage will lead to a better understanding of predator-prey relationships, biogeochemical recycling in the Southern Ocean and the role of whales in maintaining ecosystem health. This knowledge will be vital to help inform the management of expanding Antarctic krill fisheries.

This research will allow the development of knowledge that will inform management practices to ensure that krill fisheries will have no long-term impact on Antarctica’s ecosystems.