Breaking the Vicious Cycle

             Not even a month ago people all around the world were celebrating Japan’s end of whaling in the Southern Ocean. My last article warned that folks were celebrating far too soon and that Japan will waste no time to try to resume their whaling efforts. Honestly I thought they’d wait a bit longer than 3 weeks, but over a meal of whale, they tried to renew their efforts for whaling in Antarctic waters in 2015.
              The Minister of Agriculture said that this refurbished plan would be more sustainable – with less whales (250 as opposed to 950) being slaughtered, with actual scientific samples being taken. Never mind that these samples could be taken without killing the whales. But other than that, there was not much detail in their announcement.
              This goes to show that it is important not to monitor Antarctic fishing – but to not allow it altogether. Antarctica used to be the last pristine environment on Earth. The Southern Ocean, until recently, had remained the same temperature for thousands of years. This allowed animals to not change, live for decades where in other environments they live for a few years, and create an environment not found anywhere else on Earth.
              Now, thanks to increased fishing and climate change, the Southern Ocean has become a place that we most need to protect. Humans are burning the candle at both ends. We are killing apex predators – the Antarctic Toothfish (more commonly known as Chilean Sea Bass) so now that there’s hardly any of them being found. We are also over-fishing the base of the Antarctic food chain – krill. Literally everything in Antarctica depends on krill – fish, penguins, seals, whales – and even humans since if krill are left in the ocean they act as a carbon sink.
              On December 1st, 1959, world leaders did mainland Antarctica a big favor by signing the Antarctic Treaty which protected the land from exploitation. Only scientific activities can be carried out on Antarctica. No one can own the continent. They failed to extend the treaty to the ocean.
             For the last few years countries have met to try to create a marine sanctuary around Antarctica. These efforts have been repeatedly blocked by China, Russia and the Ukraine. They’ve tried decreasing the size of the marine sanctuary to conciliate the countries, but they still resist. The fishing and reaping of the Southern Ocean still continues.
              The exploitation of the Southern Ocean will continue as folks will never realize the importance of this ecosystem to the rest of the world. The Southern Ocean essentially mixes the rest of the currents of the world as it gyrates around the Antarctic continent. It is often “the forgotten ocean” being down there where few visit and experience.
              This Earth Day we need to create an awareness for the Southern Ocean and all that it does for us. We need to build a movement to demand that it be turned into the world’s largest marine sanctuary. If not, the vicious cycle of abusing it for our needs will continue.

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Before You Celebrate End of Whaling in Antarctica, Read This

Yesterday the International Court of Justice concluded that Japan’s whale hunt in the southern ocean near Antarctica was not, in fact, for “scientific research.” For the last few years, Japanese boats have gone into the Southern Ocean, gotten their quota (850) of whales per year. Sometimes they never reach that quota because Sea Shepherd, an Australian organization, watches them very closely and manages to halt them and drive them out of Antarctic waters. Theoretically, Japan’s little slap on the wrist for whaling and temporary halt, happens every year. The only change this year is that it came from the United Nations – which is why everyone is calling victory.

This may be a victory, but it is very small one. The real issue at hand is being completely ignored. Yes, whaling has temporarily been halted in Antarctica. As one of Antarctica’s biggest fans, I am thrilled. But the bigger issue has not even been mentioned once in any of the articles about Antarctic whaling – Antarctica’s waters are under attack. Whaling is the smallest offense. If we want to be true stewards of the environment and truly protect this irreplaceable environment, we need to designate the entire Southern Ocean a marine sanctuary and halt ALL commercial fishing.

Perhaps while you have been out to a restaurant recently or in the past you’ve seen something called Chilean Sea Bass on the menu. It is often described as a sweet, flakey firm white fish that lacks a fishy taste. What’s not to love? The truth. Chilean Sea Bass does not come from Chile. It comes from Antarctica. Its real name is Antarctic Toothfish but its name was changed to make it more appealing. These fish are the most dominant fish predator in Antarctica – in other words, they are the largest fish in the sea. They not only feed on smaller things, but they themselves are also food for seals, whales, squid, and a subspecies of orca that almost exclusively feeds on them. Since humans all of a sudden developed a taste for this fish, their numbers have reduced drastically. Since Antarctica is a cold place, things happen very slowly there. Things change slowly (or never), things mature slowly, things reproduce slowly. The toothfish numbers have not been able to keep up with insatiable human consumption and cannot support the environment’s needs as well.

Toothfish is not the only resident of Antarctica in danger at the hands of commercial fishing. On TV and on the web there are ads and commercials for the benefits of krill oil over fish oil. Not only are these little red pills more attractive than the golden fish oil ones, they supposedly offer no fishy burps and faster Omega-3 absorption! What is there to lose? EVERYTHING! Krill are the backbone, the nucleus, the spark of Antarctic life. EVERYTHING alive in Antarctica feeds on krill – from little icefish, to penguins, to seals, to humpback whales. If krill were to disappear, there would be no Antarctica. The truth is krill ARE disappearing. Krill numbers have declined 80% in the last 30 years. That is huge. That is much bigger than 850 whales being taken out of the water a year. Just let that sink in. 80% of the mainstay of Antarctic ecosystem has declined.

So yes. Hooray! Antarctic whaling program has been temporarily halted. That is good news. But you know what would be GREAT NEWS? No more fishing in Antarctica. Hearing that toothfish numbers are bouncing back. Hearing that krill no longer will be taken from Antarctic waters. And the best news of all? That the Southern Ocean, once the most pristine place on Earth, is designated the largest marine sanctuary. Each year many nations come together to try, and every year they fail. Maybe with this temporary halt of the whaling it is a first step.
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