Whaling & Overfishing in Antarctica: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

This lesson focuses on two things happening in Antarctica today - whaling and overfishing. Find out what these activities are and how they affect the amazing wildlife that call Antarctica's oceans home.


Way down at the bottom of the Earth lies the continent of Antarctica. It's 5.5 million square miles and covered in ice with mountains and glaciers. We're not talking about thin ice either! It's so thick that Antarctica is the highest continent in the world at about more than 7,000 feet above sea level. The water around Antarctica is called the Circumpolar Sea or the Southern Ocean.

Antarctica was discovered by people in 1820, but it has been home to plants, insects, birds, fish, and marine mammals like whales and seals for much longer than that. In 1959, many countries signed the Antarctic Treaty saying that the land should be used for scientific and not military goals.

Today, scientists around the world work together on Antarctica because there's so much to learn. Unfortunately, two activities in Antarctica - whaling and overfishing - hurt the incredible wildlife living there and also have important consequences for people and animals all over the world.

Map of Antarctica


Soon after Antarctica was discovered, hunters came and almost killed the whole population of fur seals. As the hunting of seals slowed down, whaling became more popular. In 1910, half of the whales caught in the world came from the Southern Ocean. An organization called the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was set up in the late 1940s to make rules about whaling and protect the kinds of whales that were being killed.

In 1986, the IWC said that all whaling for business wasn't allowed. The only exception is for countries who kill whales in order to do scientific research. The very next year, Japan started a program to hunt whales in Antarctica for research. In 2014, an international court said that Japan should stop all whaling because it really didn't seem to be for scientific reasons. Japan was still selling the whale meat. Japan stopped whaling for a short time and then started a smaller research program. In 2016, people and organizations were very upset when Japan killed 333 minke whales.

Minke whale

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