Sperm Whale Feces Helps Reduce Global Warming
Captain Ahab may have hated that giant white sperm whale, but it turns out that the whale’s descendents may be important players in reducing global warming. Australian researchers have stated in the Royal Society Journal Proceedings B that sperm whale feces absorb atmospheric CO2.
Sperm whales are big animals that weigh 35 to 45 tons and can consume about a ton of food a day. That much food “going in” means a significant amount of waste “coming out”. Researchers estimate that sperm whales in the Southern Ocean are responsible for about 55 tons of feces each year.
Sperm whale feces are rich in iron, which encourages the growth of phytoplankton. These tiny marine organisms use CO2 during photosynthesis to make their food, absorbing more than 441,000 tons of carbon during the process. This is more than double what sperm whales release by breathing.
The phytoplankton - sperm whale cycle is critical in certain marine ecosystems as phytoplankton is the beginning of many marine food chains. If phytoplankton is plentiful, then the other marine creatures in the food chain are also likely to maintain healthy populations. Those healthy populations feed the sperm whales, which then release iron-rich feces.
Hundreds of thousands of sperm whales around the globe all quietly defecating could put a serious dent in atmospheric CO2 levels. Moby Dick would be proud.
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