Sea Shepherd Catches Super Trawlers Stealing Food from Mega Pod of Over One Hundred Fin Whales in Antarctica

Thursday, 09 Mar, 2023

On Monday Sea Shepherd Global caught two super trawlers with their massive nets deployed plowing through a mega pod of over one hundred fin whales as they fed on krill off the South Orkney Islands, Antarctica.

A megapod of fin whales feeding on krill. Photo by Mika Van Der Gun/Sea Shepherd Gobal.

“The two super trawlers made no effort to change course. It even appeared as if they deliberately steered toward the spouting megapod, knowing that where there are whales, there must be krill”, said Captain Peter Hammarstedt from on board Sea Shepherd Global’s newest vessel Allankay.

A krill fishing vessel trawls in the middle of a fin whale megapod. Photo by Mika Van Der Gun/Sea Shepherd Global.
Sea Shepherd monitoring two super trawlers off the South Orkney Islands. Photo by Flavio Gasperini/ Sea Shepherd Global.

Another two super trawlers immediately hauled their nets and fled the scene when Allankay arrived.

The shocking images were captured on the first day of Sea Shepherd Global arriving in the Southern Ocean for our latest campaign. Operation Antarctica Defense is a mission to tackle the greatest ecological threat to the Antarctic ecosystem by monitoring the fishing activity of a growing fleet of trawlers targeting vital krill populations.

Krill, a small shrimp-like crustacean that forms the bedrock of the entire Antarctic ecosystem, is the primary food source for baleen whales and penguins, with most marine life either directly dependent on krill as food source or no more than one step removed.

With the international decline in whaling—including Sea Shepherd Global driving the last whalers out of the Southern Oceans in 2018—the krill fishery has taken its place, with 12-14 industrial trawlers targeting not whales directly, but instead the keystone species they depend on for survival.

Captain Peter Hammarstedt on the bow of the Tempest, getting a closer look at the krill supertrawler. Photo Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd Global.

“We are seeing sharp declines in humpback whale pregnancies, a decrease in the body mass of fur seals and a plummeting of chinstrap penguin populations. All three species depend on krill as a primary food source. All while climate change has reduced both the amount and duration of the sea ice that krill need to survive."

Captain Peter Hammarstedt
Allankay crew on the Tempest with one of the krill supertrawlers. Photo Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd Global.

The deadly impact on whales is not just indirect. In 2021, the deaths of three whales—in three separate events—were documented in krill trawl nets, highlighting the growing conflict between fishing vessel operators and whales chasing the same krill.

Three weeks ago, Ecology magazine published a Stanford University study that revealed four large fishing vessels trawling through a super group of over 1,000 fin whales for krill. The study concluded that this kind of competition between krill fishers and whales will only increase in the future. The recent footage from the South Orkney Islands proves that this fishing event was not an isolated incident.

Krill are being extracted out of the Southern Ocean primarily to produce krill meal, a feed additive in the aquaculture industry, but also, to churn out krill oil to mass produce Omega-3 dietary supplements. As a feed additive, the krill meal turns the otherwise grey flesh of captive salmon pink or red, mimicking their wild cousins.

A supertrawler discharges hot liquid from krill processing into the sea. Photo David Wilson/Sea Shepherd Global.

Modern krill fishing vessels install a vacuum hose at the end of their trawl net so that the vessel can fish around the clock, while also ensuring that krill aren’t crushed to death as the net is otherwise hauled up on deck, a gruesome process that would result in the loss of precious oil pressed from their tiny bodies.

“It is an absurdity and a crime against nature that krill are being hoovered out of the remote Southern Oceans—by massive industrial vessels that have traveled halfway around the world to get there—just so that the linchpin species, on which the health of the entire ecosystem depends, can be sucked from the gaping mouths of hungry whales and penguins in order to turn farmed salmon pink,” said Alistair Allan, Antarctic Campaigner with The Bob Brown Foundation.

The crew on board Allankay will be monitoring the fishery and its impact on whales, documenting its activities while mapping out the entire supply chain. Sea Shepherd Global has teamed up with the Australian Bob Brown Foundation, who will be investigating the krill fishing companies and how krill ends up on the shelves of Australian supermarkets and pharmacies as part of their “End Krill Fishing” campaign.

Visible plumes from the megapod of whales feeding on krill, with a supertrawler fishing in the middle of them. Photo Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd Global.

Our History Defending Antarctica

Sea Shepherd Global has a long history of defending the Antarctic.

In 2017, after 15 years of Sea Shepherd’s direct action campaigns to end illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary that resulted in over 6,000 whales saved, the Japanese government abandoned the Antarctic whale hunt.

In 2015, the Sea Shepherd Global ships Bob Barker and Sam Simon (now known as the Age of Union) chased Thunder, a notorious toothfish poacher wanted by the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) for 110-days until its captain, unable to shake pursuit, sank the vessel in an effort to destroy the evidence on board. Publicity from the longest maritime chase in history resulted in the arrest of the sister ships of Thunder, bringing an end to their illegal fishing activities in the Southern Ocean.

“The krill fishery in the Antarctic should be banned immediately for its devastating effect on the species that are dependent on krill. The krill fishery takes out the base of the entire Antarctic food chain. Sea Shepherd only intervenes through direct action against illegal fishing activity. When the fishery is legal—as the krill fishery is—we instead have to monitor and document fishing activity in order to push for the changes that are necessary. This is a fishery that should not be allowed to operate in this pristine environment, and we will be working towards that, whether it’s through the law or through the markets,” said Captain Alex Cornelissen, CEO of Sea Shepherd Global.

Read more: Operation Antarctica Defense Campaign

Krill supertrawler with the Allankay in the background. Photo Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd Global.
Share this