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Is there a striking difference between the difficulty of getting mineral resources out of Antarctica and exploiting the living, or animal, resources of the continent?Skip to next paragraph
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Yes. Already Antarctica's most immediate resource is being exploited and has been for some time. This is a species of crustacean called the Antarctic krill, which swarm near the surface in offshore waters and are extremely easy to catch. Any ordinary distant water trawler with large nets can go to the Antarctic and scoop up tons of these protein-rich crustaceans. The West Germans have hauled many tons in a matter of minutes.
Krill is a principal food for baleen whales. If there is increasing exploitation of the krill, will this pose a danger to already depleted whale populations?
This has been a deep concern of Antarctic scientists for many years. The whale populations were decimated during the era of Antarctic whaling and are only now starting to recover. If you start taking way the whales' principal food , particularly from the areas which are most rich in the food - that is, the feeding grounds on which the whales depend - you might retard the recovery of the whales.
The Antarctic treaty powers, having been apprised of this by their scientists many years ago, negotiated a separate treaty governing krill fishing. This has just entered into force.
The International Whaling Commission has a great deal of difficulty in enforcing its decisions on the limitation of whaling. What hope do we have that the krill treaty will fare better?
The difficulty is going to be in measuring the krill populations, because these creatures are highly mobile and are found all around the Antarctic continent, with concentrations in certain areas. . . . Remember that the ocean around Antarctica contains no less than one-fifth of the world's ocean water by volume.
The new treaty is different from most previous fishing agreements, as well as from the whaling agreement, in that the participants agree to protect the entire Antarctic marine ecosystem. The agreement is not limited to dealing with one species. This means that in order to detect harm to the whales, scientists will have to know that the reason whale stocks are at the level they are is because krill are at the level they are. They must further try to determine that any shifts in population levels are the result of man's fishing.
Seals, penguins and other birds, and many marine species such as squid, also depend on these krill. Nobody, for example, has even been able to measure the extent of the squid population. So there is a big scientific challenge.
Is krill used as human food?
The Russians have made it into a paste. They mix it with other ingredients, such as mayonnaise. There are other kinds of krill products, in which the krill are processed much as one might process shrimp. In Japan, where raw fish is popular, krill has been marketed with some success. Krill might become very important if it were simply ground up and used as a protein-rich meal for animals.
Do we draw any lessons from the Falklands war, so far as Antarctica is concerned?
I think the main lesson of the Falklands war was that the Antarctic Treaty is remarkably strong. Argentina was willing to take on Britain, but unwilling to trespass with its warships in the demilitarized Antarctic Treaty area. . . . Demilitarization of that part of the planet is probably the most important contribution that Antarctic diplomacy can make.