Protecting whales to protect the planet: How whale poop helps feed the ocean
Whales have a reputation (and rightfully so) for being the largest and most intelligent creatures in the ocean. Now, marine biologists have discovered they also capture tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making them an important nature-based solution to reducing carbon emissions. Not only does nutrient-rich whale poop help reverse the effects of climate change – it’s an exceptional example that nothing in the natural world happens in isolation.
Whales accumulate carbon in their bodies during their long lives, some of which last 200 years. When they die and sink to the ocean floor, they take this carbon with them. A study published by the International Monetary Fund states that a tree during the same period will only contribute to 3 per cent of the carbon absorption of a whale. So when it comes to saving the planet, one whale is worth thousands of trees.
Not only this, but whale poop has a multiplier effect on phytoplankton. This is because whale poop contains iron and nitrogen, elements that phytoplankton need to grow. Fascinatingly, the concentration of iron in whale poop is about 10 million times higher than average seawater concentrations. So whale poop is effectively a fertiliser that increases phytoplankton growth. This is important because phytoplankton contributes to at least 50 per cent of all the oxygen in our atmosphere! AND they capture about 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is four Amazon forests’ worth!
So, the more whales, the more whale poop, the more phytoplankton, the more oxygen! Not only do we have whales to thank for maintaining a stable food chain and accumulating carbon in their bodies, we also have to thank them for consuming and digesting millions of phytoplankton per day, enhancing atmospheric carbon dioxide removal and creating a more productive ecosystem. Be sure to thank them next time you’re whale watching with Whales in Paradise.