By Katherine Tu, SumOfUs
Three months ago a malnourished humpback whale was found washed up on the beaches of Washington state. This isn’t an isolated example — in fact twelve other whales were washed ashore in California this year and an unprecedented number of humpback whales, predominantly calves and juveniles, have been stranded on the west coast of Australia since 2008.
Scientists have consistently found that the reason behind most of these strange and increasingly frequent strandings is malnutrition. Why is this happening? To find the answer we literally have to go to the end of the Earth.
In the pristine and untouched reaches of the Antarctic ocean, a land of vast beauty, lives a tiny little, shrimp-like crustacean, krill. Although only a couple of inches long, this minuscule creature forms the basis of the entire marine ecosystem.
Crucially, krill are whales’ main source of food. A single humpback whale can eat up to 4.5 tonnes of krill each day. Humpback whales’ feeding season only lasts a couple of months. During this time they have to eat and store enough fat to be able to make a 3,100 mile long migration to their calving grounds.
Nobody knows how much krill is out there, but research indicates that populations have fallen by 80% since the mid-1970s due to climate change. In addition to this, there is a growing krill fishing industry. It’s easy to see how human influence is making whales much more vulnerable. To put it in the cautious words of a researcher: “[Humpback] whales feed almost exclusively on krill in the Antarctic and it's unknown what effect an expanding krill fishery in conjunction with climate warming might be having on the abundance of krill."
Meanwhile, some companies have cottoned on to the fact that there are big profits to be made from fishing krill from the depths of the Antarctic Ocean for aquaculture and to supply luxury omega-3 health supplements.
But why do humans need omega-3 krill pills? We don’t really. Even if you accept the less than scientific claims of the multi-billion dollar omega-3 industry about the pills’ health benefits, there are certainly more sustainable sources of omega-3 than krill, like a nutritious diet. The idea that we are gambling with the entire Antarctic ecosystem and the lives of incredible species like whales for the sake of “boosting our brain power,” as advertised in numerous health magazines is quite simply insane.
SumOfUs has started a campaign to get pharmacy giant CVS to remove krill oil supplements from their shelves. We started a petition asking CVS to stand by their sustainability claims and remove krill-based Omega-3 products from their stores. CVS is not the only company selling krill products, but it is one of the biggest and the one that it can make a difference by showing genuine leadership. As CVS has so far been refusing to remove these products, SumOfUs released this fun video aimed at raising the awareness of CVS costumers and other consumers:
The bottom line is that humans do not need krill, but oceans do. Whales do not have the luxury of choice of their omega-3 supplement or their diet, but we do. It is our joint responsibility to protect the vast Antarctic ecosystem and creatures that depend on it.
Join 95,000 other people and sign the petition calling for CVS to remove krill-based products at sumofus.org/cvs.
For any readers in the UK, there's also a petition calling for Sainsbury's to do the same.