Islands in the Storm

The immense Southern Ocean is a vast expanse of cold and inhospitable sea, blasted by winds that spin off the Antarctic Continent. However, these seas hold a surprising richness of life thanks to their stormy nature.

Produced by NHNZ

The immense Southern Ocean – a vast expanse of sea blasted by winds that come spinning off the Antarctic Continent. Cold and apparently inhospitable these seas hold a remarkable richness of aerials.

Central to this surprising abundance of life are krill, small shrimplike creatures found in unimaginable numbers – they are the key to the diversity of life in these waters, forming pare of the diet of millions seabirds, seals and the great whales.

Rising out of these storm lashed waters are isolated and desolate islands, lonely outposts but a haven for a wealth of wildlife. In early summer the storms lessen and the cold waters of the subantarctic begin bloom with new life – an abundant feast available to those who have endured the hazards of winter. It is the time to breed and the islands team with penguins, albatross and petrels jostling for space to rear their young in the short summer season.

Elephant seals and the rare Hooker’s sealion haul ashore, the males aggressively holding territories to attract and mate with females. The females give birth shortly after arriving at the beach – the rich surrounding seas provide food for the pups in the form of their mother’s milk – five times richer than cow’s milk.

The abundance of krill in the Southern Oceans sustains unbelievable numbers of seabirds – a spectacle heightened as sooty shearwaters mass around the islands, nesting in their hundreds of thousands they come ashore at dusk laden with food for their young.

Mollyhawk colonies sometimes number up to 60,000 pairs, along with penguins and shearwaters many millions of seabird’s traverse the cold waters feasting on krill and squid.

The Southern seas encircle the globe virtually unbroken, except for brief glimpses of land thrust above the sea. This vast expanse, along with its mass of available food, lures the great whales from their breeding grounds far to the north. Super swarms of krill are sieved and swallowed by the ton. Following months of fasting the whales replenish lost blubber during an almost continuous feast.

On the island refuges, again sustained by the vast numbers of krill, king penguins maintain colonies numbering hundreds of thousands. Theirs is a “continuous” and peculiar breeding arrangement – notable for it unique length of breeding season, between 13 and 16 months allowing it to breed only twice in every three years. Consequently there are eggs and chicks to be found in king penguin colony at most times of the year.

But as winter draws near the part time residents of the islands must depart back to the sea to range widely in search of food. They have enjoyed the brief summer glut, and most will have been successful in raising young, but now they must return to battle the most violent seas on Earth.

These oceans are a barometer of the health of the planet and are subject to continuing scientific research. The area has been the scene of mass slaughter, plundered for its natural resources to support an explosion of human population.

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