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CASE STUDY: HOW HUMANS HAVE AFFECTED THE ANTARCTIC FOOD WEB
Although the icy waters around Antarctica may seem an inhospitable environment, a complex food web is found there. The base of the food web consists of microscopic, photosynthetic algae present in vast numbers in the well-lit, nutrient-rich water. A huge population of herbivores—tiny shrimp like krill—eat these marine algae. Krill, in turn, support a variety of larger animals. A major consumer of krill is the baleen whale, which filters krill out of the frigid water. Baleen whales include blue whales, humpback whales, and right whales. Squid and fishes also consume krill in great quantities. These, in turn, are eaten by other carnivores: toothed whales such as the sperm whale, elephant seals and leopard seals, king penguins and emperor penguins, and birds such as the albatross and the petrel.
Humans have had an impact on the Antarctic food web as they have had on most other ecosystems. Before the advent of whaling, baleen whales consumed huge quantities of krill. Until a global ban on hunting large whales was enacted in 1986, whaling steadily reduced the number of large baleen whales in Antarctic waters. As a result, of fewer whales eating krill, more krill became available for other krill-eating animals, whose populations increased.
Now that commercial whaling is regulated, it is hoped that the number of large baleen whales will slowly increase, and that appears to be the case for some species. However, the populations of most baleen whales in the Southern Hemisphere are still a fraction of their pre-whaling levels. It is not known whether baleen whales will return to their former position of dominance in terms of krill consumption in the food web. Biologists will monitor changes in the Antarctic food web as the whale populations recover.
Thinning of the ozone layer in the stratospheric region of...

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