It’s a tiny shrimp-like creature, the diameter of a quarter and the weight of a dime.
It’s the staple food for the blue whale and 6 other species, totalling about a million whales in the Antarctic that rely on krill to survive. Whales eat 2 to 5 tons of krill a day. That’s 794 million tons of krill a year.
Much of the Antarctica penguin population of Antarctica also eats krill … about 52,000 tons a day. That’s 19 million tons a year.
It seems humans can’t get enough of it either. Krill-related health products and supplements line the shelves. It’s the latest and greatest to address heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes and depression. It’s also used for animal feed, aquaculture feed and bait.
Is there enough krill to go around … and can your dog get the same benefits from other oils?
What Are Krill?
Krill are tiny shrimp-like shellfish that grow to a length of 2.4 inches and weigh up to 0.071 ounces. Krill is at the cornerstone of the Antarctic ecosystem. It’s also a food source for seals, fish and birds like the albatross and petrels.
You might think, “what’s the harm in just a few drops of krill oil on my dog’s dinner?”
After all, krill has a huge biomass … it’s the most abundant animal species on the planet. It could be as much as 500 million tons. That’s about 300 to 400 trillion individual swimmers. In fact, female krill lay up to 10,000 eggs per day to maintain that number.
But 500 million tons doesn’t go far when whales need twice that amount in a year. And that’s just the whales.
Total sea life eats through half the krill biomass in a year.
But krill isn’t just fish food … it plays another critical role in the health of the planet ….
Healthy Krill Populations Control Greenhouse Gases
Krill eats phytoplankton, which absorb carbon dioxide. When it dives deep to escape predators, it excretes the CO2 into colder water. Amazing! This could eliminate the emissions of 35 million cars a year.
That’s a darn good reason to preserve the krill population. And phytoplankton too.
Many phytoplankton live under the Antarctic ice … but temperatures in the Antarctic are rising. Even one degree means less ice and less phytoplankton … and less food for krill.
Every year, there are fewer krill to make up the 794 million tons the whales and ocean inhabitants need. And there are fewer krill to remove greenhouse gases.
Yet we’re removing more krill from the oceans than ever before. But why?
Why Is Krill Oil So Popular For Dogs?
Krill oil has become the Holy Grail of fish oil. And that’s bad news. The quest is on for this alternative fish oil and its omega-3s.
What makes krill attractive is that it’s lower down the food chain than salmon and other fish sources of omega-3 fats. This makes krill less likely to accumulate mercury and other heavy metals, toxins, and pollutants.
Krill fishing became popular in the 1970s. Krill catches have tripled since the 1980s and they’re still growing. But krill populations have dropped by 80%.
Let’s look at why krill is disappearing …
The Odds Against Krill
- Climate change shrinks the ice mass and reduces phytoplankton.
- Less phytoplankton = immature and smaller krill.
- Predators need to eat more of the smaller sized krill.
- Declining krill populations can lead to declining predator populations.
- Less ice forces krill into other areas for phytoplankton.
- That puts them right in the path of fishing vessels … moving them from protected. habitats and making them an easier catch.
- Fishermen catch more of the smaller krill to meet weight quotas.
- Better ship-based technology = more efficient gathering and processing methods.
Overfishing Krill Is Irresponsible
Fishing landed about 440,000 tons of krill in 2019. That’s what the whales need in a day.
And there are plans to take fishing limits up to 820,000 tons a year. Demand continues to grow about 12% a year for the next three years.
You might think that isn’t a huge number. But you’d be wrong.
Boats use new technology to vacuum krill from one area. But it sucks up everything in reach. It leaves a void where a mass of krill existed. That forces sea life into other areas in search of krill. Now there’s more competition for food among sea life and something’s going to lose out. That something is smaller fish. An entire species that can’t keep up because it can’t find the krill it needs … or larger predators find it first.
Right now ONE FLEET can expect to bring in 100,000 tons in a season. New techniques are making it possible for ONE BOAT to bring in 100,000 tons in a season. ONE BOAT. In one season.
Antarctic Fisheries. What?!
There’s a commission that oversees sustainability in the Antarctic. It has 26 members and there are 10 acceding states. They don’t make decisions but they can still fish. So that means 36 members with an interest in krill fishing. Some have permanent fisheries in the Antarctic, each sending out multiple boats. And each boat brings back 100,000 tons.
It won’t take long to reach the new limit of 820,000 tons. In five years, the annual krill catch could jump to several million tons.
And that’s just the legal krill harvest. There will always be illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing as well. That’s a given.
License To Krill
Greenpeace says if there’s no krill, most forms of life in the Antarctic will vanish. Their report, License to Krill, says this:
- Fishing takes place in the immediate vicinity of wildlife such as whales and penguins, affecting their habitat.
- They remove huge amounts of krill at a time so sea life has to compete with each other for what’s left.
- Krill fishing vessels have ignored protected areas and have anchored there anyway.
- Some can’t be trusted. They’ve already broken rules and have safety infractions. And they have low standards in pollution control … both sewage and oil. In the pristine Antarctic.
- Fishing boats mean there’s potential for fuel spills, fires and groundings. And pollution.
- Sea life is already competing for its diet of krill. Now they’re competing with fishing trawlers too. It’s all in the name of health supplements.
- Lobbyists are at work trying to block government proposals for protected areas in the Antarctic.
There’s some good news though.
Krill fleets are required to carry ID systems. They are tracked … right into the feeding grounds of whales and penguins. This ID system is also handy to chart groundings, oil spills and accidents.
New Fishing Technology Threatens Krill Even More
I mentioned earlier that suction harvesting gathers mass amounts of krill at a time.
Before that, fishing had been self-limiting due to:
- Difficulties in processing krill on ships
- High fuel prices
- The cost of going to the Antarctic
It’s been a positive for the ecosystem. There’s even been under-fishing in the past. But not any more.
Now ships have on-board processing and fast-freezing technology. And they’re locating fisheries right in the Antarctic.
The result is bigger catches and expanded operations.
Exploitation And The Ecosystem
Haven’t we learned? Apparently not. Here’s the pattern:
- Demand rises for a species.
- Fisheries rush in and fish to their limits or beyond.
- The species declines.
- Commercial fishing switches to another area or species.
- And the cycle repeats.
Everything from the rate of maturity to the size of fish is affected. And how they reproduce. That creates imbalances within the food chain … and endangers species that are already scarce. Already 10 out of 18 species of penguins are at risk or endangered.
Fish disappear, species are decimated and jobs that fishing created go with them. Economies crash. That’s not a sustainable model.
Does Your Dog Need Krill Oil?
This is a trick question.
Yes, your dog needs omega-3 fatty acids in his diet. Does he need to get them from krill? No. I’ll tell you about some alternative to krill oil for your dog.
Krill oil is a reliable source of two key fatty acids. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) protects the brain and nervous system. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is an important anti-inflammatory fat. These are found only in marine sources … fish oil. But like other fish oils, krill is low in eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA), which is also a key anti-inflammatory fat.
It’s also missing gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), another anti-inflammatory fat. But GLA comes exclusively from plants, not animals.
Don’t Kill Krill
Fish and krill oil are all limited in the fatty acids they contain. Fish and krill oil are an irresponsible choice because they’re not sustainable. And they could be contaminated with heavy metals, toxins and pollutants that get passed on to your dog. Heavy demand for krill oil leads to more fishing. More fishing means more boats and higher potential for oil spills, toxicity and pollution in the Antarctic waters.
There are other, sustainable alternatives. Alternatives that don’t risk starving our sea life. And polluting the waters.
What Are The Alternatives To Krill Oil For Dogs?
Choose your omega oils and supplements by their sustainability.
When it comes to your dog’s diet, krill oil may be rich in omega-3s EPA and DHA. But it’s low in ETA and has no GLA. GLA is an inflammation fighter. There are better options that are sustainable.
Green Lipped Mussels
Green lipped mussels are naturally rich in fatty acids. In fact, there are 90 different fatty acids in green lipped mussels! But the most abundant is ETA, and a fair bit of EPA. These are two important fatty acids that reduce inflammation. Plus they’ve got a healthy dose of DHA for brain health. And it’s got tons of astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant.
As I explained earlier, EPA and DHA are the omega-3s you get in fish and marine oils. Unlike fish oils, growing and harvesting green lipped mussels is ocean-friendly. They’re a sustainable source of fatty acids.
This plant oil is extracted from hemp seeds. The nice thing about hempseed oil is that it contains minerals (and vitamins) and it doesn’t contain phytic acid like many other plants. (Phytic acid can block the absorption of the minerals zinc, iron and copper.) It contains a good ratio of 4:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. It helps control inflammation. You’ll need to partner hempseed oil with a sustainable sea source like green lipped mussels for their DHA and EPA.
Ahiflower oil is a plant oil filled with omega-3s and omega-6s. It’s the best omega source over other plant oils. It doesn’t over-harvest the oceans for its fish and plant life. It won’t damage the ecosystem. With ahiflower oil you get the omega-6 GLA your dog needs along with the omega-3 stearidonic acid (SDA). GLA and SDA are both anti-inflammatory.
Choosing any of these sustainable alternatives are better than krill oil for your dog and the environment. That leaves krill for the sea life that need it.
Sarah Trubovitz, et al. Marine plankton show threshold extinction response to Neogene climate change. Nat Commun 11, 5069, Published 22 Oct. 2020.
Meyer, B. et al. Successful ecosystem-based management of Antarctic krill should address uncertainties in krill recruitment, behaviour and ecological adaptation. Commun Earth Environ 1, 28 (2020).
Md. Mahfuzur R. Shah et al. Astaxanthin-Producing Green Microalga Haematococcus pluvialis: From Single Cell to High Value Commercial Products. Frontiers in Plant Science, 28 April 2016.