Environmentalist writer George Manbiot wrote in his blog for The Guardian that whale poop could help reverse global warming.
“Not only does nutrient-rich whale poo help reverse the effects of climate change – it’s a remarkable example that nothing in the natural world occurs in isolation,” Manbiot writes.
Manbiot’s article talks about how whale poo can be used as a tool to fight global temperature rises, but the real point of his post is to demonstrate “the remarkable connectivity, on this small and spherical planet, of living processes.” Manbiot even contends that whale recovery efforts could be “seen as a benign form of geoengineering.”
His ultimate point is that “[n]othing human beings do, and nothing that takes place in the natural world, occurs in isolation.” The natural world is so interconnected, according to Manbiot, that human interference can ultimately affect the climate in more ways than imaginable. Whale poo is just one example.
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“Studies in the 1970s proposed that the great reduction in the large whales of the southern oceans would lead to an increase in the population of krill, their major prey,” wrote Manbiot. “It never materialised. Instead there has been a long-term decline. How could that be true? It now turns out that whales maintain the populations of their prey.”
Whales “often feed at depth, but they seldom defecate there,” according to Manbiot, “So they perform their ablutions when they come up to breathe. What they are doing, in other words, is transporting nutrients from the depths, including waters too dark for photosynthesis to occur, into the photic zone, where plants can live.”
Basically, these whale “poonamis” (as Manbiot calls them) fertilize plant plankton, which krill and fish depend on for food. Manbiot says that recent research has supported this argument. One study found that plankton fertilized with pygmy blue whale poo had greater productivity, the richer the mix of fecal matter.
“The volume of plant plankton has declined across much of the world over the past century, probably as a result of rising global temperatures,” Manbiot wrote. “But the decline appears to have been been steepest where whales and seals have been most heavily hunted. The fishermen who have insisted that predators such as seals should be killed might have been reducing, not enhancing, their catch.”
“But it doesn’t end there,” Manbiot continued. “Plant plankton, when they die, slowly descend into the abyss, taking with them the carbon they have absorbed from the atmosphere. It is hard to quantify, but when they were at their historical populations, whales are likely to have made a small but significant contribution to the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
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