Commercial whaling is at the forefront of our thoughts due to the possible reversal of the moratorium on whale hunting at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting this month. Looking past the inhumane slaughter of innocent animals, another ding against industrial whaling has been revealed thanks to a study published in the British biological science journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the study led by Australian biologists shows that Southern Ocean sperm whales are a key component in the fight against global warming. While it was previously believed that whales contributed to climate change due to the carbon dioxide which is released when they exhale, new data shows a bigger picture, one that includes the feces of the giant marine mammals.
Through fecal fertilization—which can be simply explained as whales pooping, the waste contains iron, the iron is used by marine plants near the ocean’s surface, and thanks to photosynthesis those plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere—the Southern Ocean sperm whales are, in a roundabout way, removing an estimated 400,000 metric tons of CO2 each year.
If we look at the numbers, the whales in the southern waters are said to release 200,000 metric tons of CO2 through respiration while their fecal fertilization removes 400,000 metric tons of CO2, leaving us with the overall elimination of 200,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions. That 200,000 metric tons is equivalent to 41,841 passenger cars, according to the EPA.
An important note included in the study points out that prior to industrial whaling, those numbers could be multiplied by 10.
The report reminds us that, when left alone, everything on this planet works in an incredible synchronized system. When humans get involved—say through the mass slaughter of whales—things go awry and the system is thrown out of balance. One has to wonder where we would be with our climate change worries if we left the whales alone in the first place.
The fate of all whales will be determined through votes next week at the IWC’s annual meeting in Agadir, Morocco.