Save the Whale Poop, Save the World?

According to some recent studies, whales can help save the climate. But with the International Whaling Commission voting next week on a proposal to resume commercial whaling operations for the first time in more than 20 years, we have to save the whales first.

And with millions of barrels of oil continuing to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, whale-hunting humans aren’t the only threat these marine mammals are facing, either.

From the 18th all the way through to the 20th century, humans have certainly put plenty of pressure on whale populations. Sperm whales in particular were so ruthlessly hunted, that at one point after World War II, it was believed some two-thirds of their global population had been wiped out. They were hunted for bodily substances that had a variety of lucrative commercial applications. Whale oil, for a long time, was used as a fuel source, for example.

These days, most of the world rightfully condemns whale hunting as barbaric, and sperm whale populations are on the rebound, enough that their conservation status is now listed as “vulnerable” rather than “endangered.”

So it is a really bitter irony that demand for another fuel source — this time, fossil oil — might have recently claimed the life of a baby sperm whale in the Gulf of Mexico.

We have failed to kick our addiction to oil despite all evidence that our carbon emissions drive climate change, which in turn imperils the survival of every creature on this planet.

Now, recent findings hit home the irony of this baby sperm whale’s death. Had it lived, it turns out it could have helped redress the carbon emissions problem created by our use of the oil that likely caused its death.

I reported once before that whales store so much carbon in their large bodies that they are a fairly significant carbon sink in their own right. But it turns out I and everyone else were way underestimating the carbon sequestration power of whales.

According to the Brisbane Times: “Australian and German researchers studying the defecation habits of the 12,000 sperm whales remaining in the Southern Ocean have found they act as an unusual way of removing carbon from the atmosphere.”

That’s right, folks, whale poop actually helps remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Because their poop is rich in the nutrient iron, their poop helps stimulate carbon-absorbing plankton growth in the ocean. As a result, the researchers found that the whales’ bathroom habits alone remove about 240,000 tons of carbon from the air.

So, as we callously threaten the whales in more ways than one, we are also helping do our own selves in.

Image credit: Strange One

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