Ross Sea, Antarctica
The great Ross Sea, extending out from the ice edge of the Antarctic continent, is the jewel of the great Southern Ocean. Plundered by whalers who took nearly all of its blue whales, the Ross Sea yet supports huge numbers of orcas, minke, sei, sperm, Arnoux’s beaked and southern bottlenose whales and hourglass dolphins. There are also hundreds of thousands of penguins, seabirds and seals. It has been called "the largest remaining, minimally-changed ecosystem on Earth" by Antarctic penguin authority David Ainley. In terms of measures of primary productivity and plankton standing stocks, the Ross Sea is the richest stretch of water of comparable size in the Southern Ocean and one of the last relatively untouched places on Earth where both top-down and bottom-up ecosystem processes can be observed and studied.
Currently, there are two fisheries in the Ross Sea:
- Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni) which is of critical importance to the Ross Sea ecosystem. The danger is that relatively small-scale fishing will expand to huge take levels exhibited on Dissostichus stocks elsewhere in the Southern Ocean which led to rapid depletion.
- Japan’s infamous "scientific" catch of Antarctic minke whales (Balaenoptera bonaerensis). More then 1,500 whales have been killed in the Ross Sea by Japan since the moratorium on commercial whaling came into force. The data being gathered by JARPA is obtainable by non-lethal methods, leading many to question the motives of the Japanese who sell the meat commercially when the ships return to Japan.
Both Antarctic minke whales and orcas are classified as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List, while sei whales are Endangered. Sperm whales are rated as Vulnerable. This area was historically important for blue whales which are now Critically Endangered in the Antarctic. If blue whales are ever to make a comeback in the Antarctic, the Ross Sea’s productivity would be important for them.
The proposed marine reserve for the Ross Sea is approximately 1.4 million square miles (3.6 million sq km).
For more information about the proposed Ross Sea Marine Protected Area, please go to www.cetaceanhabitat.org.
Please sign WDCS’s Global Petition for Marine Protected Areas and put pressure on your government representatives.
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