The Pew Charitable Trusts continues this week to explore some of the spectacular creatures that depend on a healthy Southern Ocean for survival.
The next 11 species from the Antarctic Ocean Alliance’s report 33 Antarctic Species We Love and Must Protect range from charismatic birds to tiny invertebrates. But no matter their size, they all play important roles in the Antarctic food web and all deserve protection.
On Oct. 20, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) will begin deliberating over proposals to create large-scale marine reserves in the Ross Sea and the waters off East Antarctica. If established, the reserves would be among the largest protected areas in the world.
The Antarctic Ocean Alliance report highlights 33 species to mark the 33rd annual meeting of CCAMLR. The members of the commission—24 countries and the European Union—will meet from Oct. 20 to 31 in Hobart, Australia.
Now is the time for action, and the animals below are just a few of the reasons why.
The McCain’s skate is one of several species of skates and rays that live in the Southern Ocean. It is often caught accidentally in toothfish fisheries and is now at risk. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed McCain’s skate as Near Threatened with extinction.
This majestic bird is found along the entire Antarctic coastline and on nearby islands. These petrels breed farther south than any other birds. They protect themselves from the harsh environment by keeping their feathers clean, dry, and oiled.
The many species of tiny copepods make up a huge part of the Southern Ocean’s biodiversity, and as food for Antarctic krill they are a critical part of the food web. One study of the Weddell Sea found that these tiny zooplankton are the most numerous creatures in the region—with the greatest number of distinct species.
Antarctic fur seal coats were once so in demand that these animals were close to extinction. Today, thanks to a decline in seal hunting, they are one of the most numerous seal species in the region. Despite their population growth, the effects of climate change could have a negative impact on the species.
Chinstrap penguins are named for their distinctive horizontal facial stripe. They are aggressive birds and have been known to stab at scientists with their beaks and to steal rocks from the nests of neighboring chinstraps when building their own.
For years, marbled rockcod were fished commercially in the Southern Ocean. Huge catches over several decades and overfishing of the species have caused rapid declines. Combined with their relatively short lifespan of only 16 years, populations still have not recovered from industrial practices.
Glass sponges are thought to live hundreds and even thousands of years. They get their name from their skeletons, which are made of silicon dioxide, the main component of glass. These sponges are important components of Antarctic seafloor life, providing food and shelter for a wide range of species.
Members of the icefish family have a remarkable adaptation. While all other vertebrates use hemoglobin to transport oxygen in their blood, icefish are hemoglobin-free and get oxygen directly from the water. Unfortunately, these fish are particularly sensitive to environmental changes and may not be able to adapt to climate change and increased ocean acidification.
At lengths around 30 meters and weights of over 100 metric tons, blue whales are the largest animals on Earth. Despite their enormous size, their food of choice is tiny krill. Blue whales can consume millions of krill at once. That means krill declines could significantly affect blue whale populations.
Echinoderms include a wide range of species, such as sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and starfish. There are 219 species of brittle stars in the Southern Ocean alone. But scientists believe many echinoderms will be harmed by increased ocean acidification near the South Pole, a change that would throw off the balance of the ecosystem.
Highly abundant silverfish are an important prey species for seals, whales, and penguins. Unlike similar species, they are slow-growing and can live up to 10 years. Silverfish have what is known as neutral buoyancy—their body density equals the density of the surrounding waters. That means they can lay their eggs under sea ice. While this adaptation protects eggs from being eaten, a decline in sea ice caused by climate change could make the species vulnerable.
Did you miss the first 11 species in the countdown? You can view them here. See the rest Oct. 8.