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Antarctic krill: Great protein source and key species in Antarctic food web

Xu Wen


Although it looks like the regular shrimp people consume, Antarctic krill belongs to a different order and is a kind of bioluminescent creature.

There are over 85 species of krill throughout the world's oceans. This particular krill is one found in the Antarctic waters. Always swimming in large swarms, they are tiny, rich in high-quality protein and a fundamental part of the marine food web in the Antarctic.

Antarctic krill is considered the largest protein bank on Earth and also a strategically important fishery resource. 

"Their protein content is very high. The beef we usually eat contains only 20 grams of protein per 100 grams, but Antarctic krill have up to 50 grams," said Xu Zhiqiang, a researcher at the Institute of Oceanology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Currently, the krill is widely harvested to extract its oil and make powder for animal feed.


Antarctic krill is one of the key species that China's researchers will focus on during the country's 40th Antarctic scientific expedition.

A set of ecological subsurface mooring buoys was placed by China's research icebreaker Xuelong 2 in Amundsen Sea on January 6. The device is used for long-term optical and acoustic observations on krill, and it will be collected a year later during the 41th expedition.

The expedition team said data from such ecological research equipment will boost China's efforts in ecological protection of polar regions.

"The reason we chose this area to place the device is based on historical research data, which shows there are abundant krill. We can monitor the seasonal changes in krill over the course of a year with these sensors. We can also analyze krill's growth status and their response to climate change against the backdrop of global warming. This will further provide scientific basis for China's ecological protection in polar regions," said Wang Jinhui, deputy leader of China's 40th Antarctic scientific expedition team.

(Cover image a screenshot)

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