Friday, 11 July 2014

Why whale poo could be the secret to reversing the effects of climate change

I have been at the wrong end of a defecating sperm whale: it smells, it's nutrient rich, and could just save the world


theguardian.com, Tuesday 8 July 2014 17.00 BST

The first success of the environmental movements of the 1960s was to save the whale. Now, with deep irony, whales may be about to save us with their poo. A new scientific report from the University of Vermont, which gathers together several decades of research, shows that the great whales which nearly became extinct in the 20th century – and are now recovering in number due to the 1983 ban on whaling – may be the enablers of massive carbon sinks via their prodigious production of faeces.

Not only do the nutrients in whale poo feed other organisms, from phytoplankton upwards – and thereby absorb the carbon we humans are pumping into the atmosphere – even in death the sinking bodies of these massive animals create new resources on the sea bed, where entire species exist solely to graze on rotting whale. There's an additional and direct benefit for humans, too. Contrary to the suspicions of fishermen that whales take their catch, cetacean recovery could "lead to higher rates of productivity in locations where whales aggregate to feed and give birth". Their fertilizing faeces here, too, would encourage phytoplankton which in turn would encourage healthier fisheries.

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