Key Antarctic Food Source Declining

NEW YORK Researchers say a key food source for Antarctic seals, whales and penguins has declined about 80 percent since the 1970s in ocean waters near the Antarctic Peninsula.

They say the overall effect of the decline in stocks of krill isn't clear, but the finding suggests more work is urgently needed. Krill is a shrimp-like crustacean.

Statistical analysis suggests the most likely explanation is a decline in the amount of winter sea ice in the area of the peninsula. Krill feed on algae found on sea ice. The area has shown an unusually strong warming trend over the past 50 years.

Old Dominion University oceanographer Eileen Hofmann says the loss of the food source could have "profound implications." Hofmann says the predators could no longer feed their young and reproduce. Hofmann says that in the long term, the animal populations would decrease or they'd be forced to move elsewhere.

The study appears in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature.

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