Fisheries officers have taken samples of the dead krill found in Delkatla Bay to send to the DFO lab in Nanaimo to try and determine what caused the die-off

Fisheries officers have taken samples of the dead krill found in Delkatla Bay to send to the DFO lab in Nanaimo to try and determine what caused the die-off

On The Wing: Hazy seas and dead Krill

Large die-off of krill in Delkatla Bay

Shearwaters skim over the silvery sea and whales blow in the offing. It’s a calm crossing but visibility is almost impossible. Travelling west is always harder on the eyes that travelling east. The sun is beside the ship most of the way and it sparkles on the water. Its all a bit dreamy, the soft sky, the shadows of birds, the shining water. The horizon lacks clarity and there’s nothing for it but to gaze and hope that something can be identified. Then a large, heavy-bodied, gull-like thing appears from the right, vanishes into the brightness and doesn’t reappear. But we have seen enough to know that it was a Pomarine Jaeger, the master hunter, gaining traction in the heavy air and on a mission. We never see it again, once the sun takes it, it’s no longer real.

A few gulls sit on the water close by; most are Herring Gulls that always show up at this time of year. Beside them in water are the tiniest things imaginable. Sandpipers? Out here? In the middle of the Strait? Yes. Red-necked Phalaropes. They lift and fly away in a hazy group; dark and tiny. They too disappear as though they had never been. Grey Whales sound, shearwaters skim low and the ship’s motor is a constant low thrum in the sea’s solitude.

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It was much more active on the trip east. The weather came down and the birds loved it. The waves increased, the water churned and in one trough we saw a huge pinkish ball, too large to be any kind of jellyfish and the birds were drawn to it. It was actually krill, or tiny shrimp, a major food source for all sea creatures. It’s on the bottom of the food chain and everything eats it. Whales, birds, seals, salmon. Without krill it would be a sorry, empty sea.

There was a large die-off of krill in Delkatla Bay this past week. The local Fisheries officers took samples of the tiny euphausiids to send to the DFO lab in Nanaimo to try and determine what caused the die-off. They have serious concerns about it. It’s possible, from first glance, that, as it was warm and dry for the past few weeks, some kind of bloom developed and killed off the krill. Something similar occurred near Powell River in March this year. According to zooplankton taxonomist Moira Galbraith from the Institute of Ocean Scientists in Patricia Bay, the “mass death of the animals could be linked to an earlier bloom of phytoplankton which died and fell out of the water column…decomposition of that much biomass would use up a lot of oxygen and possibly turn the bottom 50 metres or 100 metres anoxic, or very low oxygen, which could kill the krill. So,” Galbraith concluded. “It’s either low oxygen kill-off, or bacterial or viral infection.” We need to know more; the wild world depends on it.

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On the Wing