Antarctica’s Southern Ocean has been exploited for its teeming bounty, from the top of its food chain to the bottom, for more than 200 years. Seal hunters arrived there in the late 1700s and by 1825 fur seals were nearing extinction. Hunters then turned to other seal species, and to penguins, to extract oil from their body fat. Whaling arrived at the turn of the 20th century, with the hunting pressure driving some species from Antarctic waters.
Even krill, the tiny shrimplike creatures that are a key source of food to whales, penguins, seals and seabirds, are being scooped up in hundreds of thousands of tons per year. Now that the continent is undergoing tremendous disruption from the warming climate, strong multilateral action is imperative to protect it and its surrounding seas.