Why saving sperm whales is more important than ever
Thursday 17 June 2010
When the International Whaling Commission meets in Morocco next week to discuss lifting the moratorium on commercial whaling, delegates might pause to consider an unexpected fact: the faeces of sperm whales is helping to save the planet.
Australian researchers have found that the iron-rich faeces of sperm whales living in the Southern Ocean boosts the growth of phytoplankton, marine plants which suck in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They estimate that the whales are responsible for removing 400,000 tonnes of carbon each year, twice as much as they contribute through respiration.
According to the scientists, based at Adelaide's Flinders University, they would be disposing of 10 times as much carbon were it not for commercial whaling. Their faeces is useful because it is emitted in liquid form close to the surface of the ocean, where phytoplankton is found, according to the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Trish Lavery, the lead researcher, based at the university's School of Biological Sciences, estimates that each of the Southern Ocean's approximately 12,000 sperm whales releases about 50 tonnes of iron into the sea annually.
Previously, the enormous mammals were regarded as climate criminals because they breathe out carbon dioxide. But Ms Lavery concluded that they are a major carbon absorbent, removing the equivalent of the emissions of 40,000 cars each year.
She said: "They have certainly gone past the carbon-neutral status that we all aspire to, and they're actually sinking more carbon from the atmosphere each year into the deep ocean... than what they add to the atmosphere.
"If we hadn't decreased sperm whale populations from their historical levels, we'd have an extra about two million tonnes of carbon being pulled out of our atmosphere every year."
Dolphins ‘deliberately get high’ on puffer fish nerve toxins by carefully chewing and passing them around
Greenham Reach: The families trying to prove that compact, ecological farms can make a living
Boiling ourselves to death: Temperatures on Earth hit another record high, here’s the projected effect on humans
Clash of the fiercest predators as shark eats polar bear
River Danube: Overfished, overpolluted and with 200 million-year-old species close to extinction - what next for one of Europe's great rivers?
- 1 Woman accidentally shoots herself in the head while posing for a selfie
- 2 Art Garfunkel: Paul Simon is a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
- 3 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 4 Female Muay Thai champion hustles coaches to give them a beating
- 5 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland
£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...
£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...