How life's forms modify and evolve the Earth: whale poop (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Sunday, September 03, 2023, 15:32 (231 days ago) @ David Turell

Stays near the surface supplying nutrients:

"What makes whale poop special? First, there’s a lot of it, since whales are the largest animals on Earth. Second, whales usually feed in deeper water and then poop when they surface to breathe; this cycles nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and iron — which naturally sink.

"Third, their fecal plumes are buoyant, lingering in the sunny, uppermost layer of water. This means whale poop could help spur the growth of phytoplankton, tiny plants at the base of the marine food web.


"The recycling of nutrients via cetacean poop is called the “whale pump” and has been studied in other parts of the world, too.

"In the North Atlantic, for example, researchers Joe Roman and James McCarthy found that whales and seals in the Gulf of Maine may be responsible for adding more nitrogen to the surface each year than all of the rivers combined.

"And according to a different study co-authored by Roman, the vertical movement of phosphorus from the deep sea to the surface by marine mammals has been reduced by 77 percent worldwide since whaling drastically reduced cetacean populations.

"In the Southern Ocean, feces from fin, sperm and blue whales replenish iron at the surface — a necessary ingredient for phytoplankton growth. A 2010 study found that the iron content in the fecal matter of baleen whales there was 10 million times higher than in background Antarctic seawater.

"Whale poop likely plays an important role in fertilizing the cold waters of the North Pacific, too. An estimated 1,500 humpbacks migrate to Southeast Alaska every summer to feed, along with gray whales, orcas and other marine mammals.


"In addition to boosting nutrients, whale poop may also play a role in sequestering carbon. “There’s this idea that phytoplankton are helping draw carbon out of the atmosphere and sink it into the deep ocean where it won't return to the surface for thousands of years,” says Pearson.

"Some scientists are even attempting to use artificial whale poo to boost both fish populations and phytoplankton growth, in hopes the marine plants absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

"Pearson co-authored a recent paper that estimates the amount of carbon sequestered by the whale pump. But she cautions that “to fully realize these benefits, we need to be talking about stringent conservation actions that allow whale populations to recover.”


"One way to inspire more conservation is to help people “look at whales in a different light,” says Pearson. This includes putting numbers on how much they contribute to ecosystem health through nutrient cycling or carbon sequestration. (my bold)

"Which brings us back to Bloch in her small boat, scooping up bottles full of whale poop. She also hopes the findings will tell us more about how these gentle giants affect the food web, and give us even more reasons to protect whales. (my bold)

Comment: everything an animal does has some effect on its ecosystem. Every ecosystem has effects on other ecosystems in an enormous interconnected web over the Earth.

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