The Beacon

Whale Wednesday: Save the Carbon Sinks

A sperm whale fluke. © Oceana/Jesus Renedo

There’s no shortage of blame to go around when it comes to climate change. Individuals are responsible for poor consumer choices; we drive the wrong cars, use the wrong light bulbs, even wash our laundry on the wrong setting. Even the poor dairy cow shares the blame for having the nerve to burp methane emissions. But Bessie isn’t the only creature catching a bad rap. Sperm whales have been criticized for breathing. Yes, breathing. Apparently the carbon dioxide emitted from the roughly 210,000 sperm whales in the Southern Ocean is contributing to global warming, producing in the ballpark of 17 million tons of carbon a year. But new research suggests that we’re missing a very big factor in the calculation. It’s not just what the whales put out, but also what they take in. Now, stay with me. Sperm whales feed on squid in the nutrient rich zone at the bottom of the ocean. They later excrete an iron-rich substance at the ocean’s surface. The iron promotes plankton growth which traps carbon dioxide. Voila! Put the pieces together and you end up with sperm whales that are carbon neutral, if not a carbon sink. Oceana didn’t need another reason to favor the sperm whales, but it looks like we got one with their iron-rich, global warming-fighting poop.

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