We have always known that whales are more valuable alive than dead, and now German and Australian scientists have discovered that even whale shit is valuable and contains some fifty tons of iron annually that has to be among one of the most unusual remedies for global warming.
The Japanese may poo-poo our arguments that whales give us more alive than dead, but this recent scientific discovery reveals that the defecation habits of the estimated 12,000 sperm whales remaining in the Southern Ocean act as an efficient and quite unexpected way of removing carbon from the atmosphere.
In a paper published by the Royal Society, the researchers – headed by Trish Lavery of Flinders University – estimate the whales effectively remove about 240,000 tons more carbon than they produce, due to defecating about 50 tons of iron into the zone where photosynthesis occurs. This stimulates phytoplankton to grow and trap carbon in the deep ocean.
The researchers found that the whales send about 160,000 tons of carbon into the atmosphere by breathing, but they effectively remove 400,000 tons by bowel movements.
Another two million tons of carbon could have been “sunk,” if not for the impact on the sperm whale population of industrial whaling from the early 1800s onwards, which reduced Southern Ocean numbers by around 90 per cent.
Baleen whales provide a valuable ecological function in controlling krill populations. Sperm whales control giant squid populations. Baleen whales are to the oceans what the buffalo were once to the plains. Sperm whales are to the oceans what wolves are for the caribou. And with this discovery, we are realizing once again that humans are ignorant of many of the natural links between species and the health of ecosystems. It’s all about diversity, interdependence, and limits to growth and carrying capacity.
Whale feces contributes more to a healthy planet than anything humans do. What the whales take from the environment, they return with interest. Humanity, on the other hand, plunders without guilt or remorse with the arrogant justification that we are semi-divine and all of nature is to be ours for the taking.
Even whale vomit is valuable. Ambergris is the pus excreted from the stomach lining of sperm whales caused by the perforation by squid beaks. This substance has the uncanny ability to hold a scent and thus is worth its weight in gold to the perfume industry. It can be found floating on the surface and thus the more living Sperm whales, the more chances of finding valuable ambergris.
The oceans need to see a proliferation of whales. The renegade whaling nations of Japan, Norway, and Iceland continue humanity’s insane war on whale-kind. Over the last three centuries, humans have slaughtered and destroyed over 90% of the whales and in the process have driven the Atlantic Grey and the Biscayan Right whale into extinction, and we have brought the North and South Atlantic Right whales and the Western Pacific Grey whales to the brink of extinction.
The Southern Ocean should be left in peace, untouched by the rapacious greed of mankind. Whales are a highly intelligent life form and live in perfect harmony with their environment. We invaded their world and we have slaughtered them ruthlessly for centuries.
It’s time to end the Whale Wars and to live in peace with these magnificent sentient beings in the sea.
And the planet can do with more whale do-do!
We need their shit. They don’t need ours!
Captain Paul Watson is director of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.