Opening Image: The Antarctic Endeavour super trawler fishing for krill amongst a pod of fin whales in Antarctica’s South Orkney Islands. Photo Mika Van Der Gun


It’s 4:30am and there is a firm knock on my cabin door. Stumbling out of bed, I open it. “We have the krill fleet 12 nautical miles away; we launch the fast boat in 30 minutes.” Immediately, a little bit of adrenaline starts to course through me. We’ve arrived at the krilling grounds.


I quickly pull on my waterproof clothing and head to the bridge of the ship. The radar is dotted with targets, each one a supertrawler hoovering krill out of the Antarctic ecosystem. Down on deck, the fast boat is already in the water, and before I know it, I’m outside in the Antarctic cold, descending the long, boarding ladder into the boat.


I’m currently off Coronation Island, a snow-capped and glacier-covered island in the Scotia Sea, Antarctica. Icebergs drift silently past as chinstrap penguins jump off the top of waves in what looks like a choreographed dance. I’ve come to this remote corner of the world as the Antarctic and Marine Campaigner for the Bob Brown Foundation, joining forces with Sea Shepherd Global to expose a dark underside of this otherwise stunning and pristine wilderness – a krill supertrawler fleet.


Krill, a small shrimp-like crustacean that forms the bedrock of the entire Antarctic ecosystem, is the primary food source for baleen whales and penguins, with most marine life in Antarctica either directly dependent on krill as a food source, or no more than one or two steps removed.


The voyage focuses on the heavily concentrated fishing of krill around the South Orkney Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. It is this concentrated fishing effort that is having a serious impact on the Antarctic ecosystem, especially penguins, seals, and whales, as they compete with these supertrawlers for their food source.

Alistair Allan is in Antarctica with the Bob Brown Foundation to expose an industrialised fishing industry most Australians don’t even know exists. Krill is used as aquaculture feed, pet food, and as a health supplement for humans. Photo Flavio Gasperini

As we speed across the frigid Southern Ocean, albatross and penguins wheel and dive respectively around us. Whale blows start appearing all over the horizon. Then out of the light morning fog they appear: two hulking shapes, that even though still miles away, already seem huge. Steam and smoke billow off them as they motor forwards. They are my first glimpse of krill super trawlers. These two are part of the Chinese fleet – the Shen Lan and the Long Fa.

We head towards the Shen Lan. This is China’s newest krill vessel and at 130 metres long, it is the same size as the infamous Japanese whaling vessel, the Nisshin Maru. Except rather than targeting the ocean’s largest creatures, the Shen Lan is targeting one of the smallest.

Upon arriving to the Shen Lan, despite knowing it well in my mind from pictures and reports, I am still taken aback. It is simply monstrous. It looks more like a cruise ship than a fishing trawler. The only giveaway is that, out of the gaping slipway that is the vessels stern, a giant net disappears into the sea.

Straight away, the Shen Lan starts to retrieve their net. They must know we are here to document and expose this destructive fishery, and evidently, they do not want to be photographed fishing. They pick up speed and start heading toward another two trawlers.

As the Chinese fleet fled over the horizon, it was here that we witnessed something that the krill industry doesn’t want anyone to see. These next two trawlers, the Antarctic Endeavour from Chile and the Sejong from South Korea, were trawling right through a megapod of up to 200 fin whales. These whales congregate here because, just like these industrial trawlers, they are seeking krill.

These trawlers were using the megapod to find the krill. It even looked as if the trawlers deliberately steered through the pod, knowing that there would be krill there. This is why this fishery is so destructive; they fish in areas that wildlife, like whales, but penguins and seals as well, expect to find food, as they have done for millennia. As whale populations recover due to the cessation of commercial whaling in Antarctica, the krill industry is rising to take its place. And the impacts of this were on full display.

The factory krill boats use the whales to locate the vast swarms of krill that support much of the marine life in the Antarctic. Any collapse in krill numbers would have a devastating flow-on effect to dozens of species. Photo Flavio Gasperini

As I sat in a small six metre boat, surrounded by penguins, whales, and seabirds, I have rarely seen such a wild and alive patch of ocean. There were whale blows as far as the eye could see. Chinstrap penguins chattered noisily in the water. Cape petrels, Antarctic prions and southern giant petrels clambered over each other, while the ever-majestic albatross soared over the tips of the waves.

It was a spectacle, and clear evidence why Antarctica and the Southern Ocean should be afforded total protection. So, it was with a profound sense of sadness that this scene was shattered as a supertrawler rumbled past us, sucking the ecosystem empty.

Life on Earth relies on a healthy Antarctica and Southern Ocean, just as much as places like the Amazon. And like most of Earth’s wild places, Antarctica faces growing threats. We know these threats all too well. They are felt in Australia with its destructive wildfires, or the sinking islands of the Pacific and the floods in Central Europe.

For Antarctica, life here hinges on one tiny animal – krill. They are vital for every single one of the animals around me, and the health of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Climate change and a warming Southern Ocean poses a huge challenge to them. In the face of this, we need to let krill flourish and become as plentiful and resilient as they can be.

We will be in the krill fishing grounds for a long time documenting this crime against nature. I hope to show the world that this fishery has no place in Antarctica, one of the planet Earth’s last great wild places.

Find out more here about the destructive krill fishery – and how krill end up on supermarket shelves in Australia.

Take action here.

Opening Image: The Antarctic Endeavour super trawler fishing for krill amongst a pod of fin whales in Antarctica’s South Orkney Islands. Photo Mika Van Der Gun


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