Remember the last time you were out jogging and cursed the dog owner that forgot to clean up after their pet. Now a new report asks that you reconsider that inconvenience because not all poop is created equal especially when it comes to the weighty subject of whale poop.
You see, poop is an effective way to spread nutrients around and for a Blue Whale that excretes about 2% of its body weight – or about three tons – each day that’s a lot of poop. (chart – PNASRenate Helmiss)
Whales feed in the ocean’s deeper depths, but take their dumps in shallower waters releasing huge amounts of Nitrogen and Iron and thereby moving nutrients upward through the water column closer to the surface where it fertilizes the plant plankton on which krill and fish depend. So whales actually ensure the survival of the same species that they rely on for food.
As whale populations decline so does the plankton and krill.
And that’s the rub, as the populations of whales and other deep-diving marine mammals have diminished so does the replenishment of the ocean’s natural fertilizer.
The same goes for land-based, mega-fauna like elephants and rhinos where it is estimated that today only 8% of natural poop fertilizer is replenished, in comparison to what was dumped when mastodons, mammoths and giant sloths roamed the land at the end of the last ice age. In the oceans, the estimate of natural poop fertilizer is even less, around 5% of what was produced before the world’s whales were hunted to near extinction.
“This broken global cycle may weaken ecosystem health, fisheries and agriculture,” said Joe Roman, a biologist at the University of Vermont.
How Whales Change Climate
As whales feed the plankton growth near the ocean’s surface, the plankton in turn absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and when the plankton eventually sinks to the ocean floor that carbon dioxide is sequestered in the ocean’s depths for thousands of years. Consequently the more whales we have, the more plankton we have and the more carbon dioxide that is removed from the atmosphere, thereby reducing greenhouse gasses responsible for global warming.
Whale feces, seabird poop and dying fish (like salmon that die after spawning) are all rich in phosphorous. But the collapse of whale, fish and seabird populations has caused phosphorous levels to drop nearly 96% with serious implications for the fertility of both the oceans and the land. “This once was a world that had 10 times more whales; 20 times more anadromous fish, like salmon; double the number of seabirds; and 10 times more large herbivores — giant sloths and mastodons and mammoths,” Roman said.
So next time you are out jogging watch your step but remember that Fido is just doing his part to maintain the world’s eco-balance.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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