Look at This: Enormous Whales Have Enormous (and Interesting) Poop

By Valerie Ross | August 10, 2012 3:17 pm

Blue whales, the largest animals on Earth, can eat about four tons of food a day—and when they’re done digesting, there’s still a whole lot of stuff left over. This aerial shot, taken by oceanographic consultant Eddie Kisfaludy off the Southern California coast, shows a blue whale and a truly enormous plume of its poop, the same vibrant orange as the krill on which the whales feed.

Whale feces, it turns out, plays a substantial role in ocean ecosystems. Since it floats to the surface, it brings nitrogen whales have taken in when they fed in the ocean’s depths to shallow waters, providing a much-needed nutrient for plankton there. The massive mammals’ poop also serves as a significant carbon sink; one study estimated that excrement from sperm whales in the Southern Ocean alone sequestered 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year.

Researchers who study whales have found the feces fertile ground for scientific inquiry, analyzing its makeup to determine what the animals are eating, where they’ve been, and even whether they’re stressed out. As for how these curious scientists locate their research material in the open ocean: they’ve trained dogs to sniff it out from as far as a mile away.

[via Wired Science]

Image courtesy of Eddie Kisfaludy

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • John Lerch

    Either it’s a nutrient for the plankton or it sequesters 400k tons /year but not both.

  • mikel

    If you had read the article and paper linked to in the post, you would see that the fertilization and sequestration are not only compatible but are the same thing. It is the fertilization that causes the sequestration.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Roger That

    Oh my……that’s a large carbon finprint!

  • Bonnie

    Three cheers for Blue Whales and their contribution to the environment. It seems that all entities on the face of this earth contribute in some way to the environment. Where does the human race fit in?

  • Chris the Canadian

    We are parasites. We consume, destroy, and move forward to comsume and destroy some more. Our ability to produce and grow and help the environment and natural world is directly opposed to our ability to abuse and exterminate living species in that world. We have begun to expand into space in the name of science, but in reality the final result of our exploration is to expand our reach into space as another place to exploit nature.

    Our communal conscience is what keeps us from completely obliterating this planet. Thank goodness we have the intelligence to recognize our impact on the world and the importance of the living things around us. The Blue Whale poop fertilizing and feeding plankton which then feed krill and other species of tiny organisms which then feed the whales. Circle of life … or poop … circle of poop.

  • Mike M

    We’re merely an introduced species, too-easily grown out of proportion to our true place in a balanced diverse ecosystem.

    The problem is sequestration of another kind:

    Humans pave over, build upon, and otherwise prevent regrowth on a significant proportion of earth.

    We unnaturally mine, condense, and process toxic materials, and cast those toxics into the waters and watershed more than anywhere else.

    We seek ultimate efficiency and so monocrop, whether mowing tropical forests to replace them with palm, soy, corn, or other materials. We have dredged up massive amounts of fossil carbon, sequestered for hundreds of millions of years, and injected the carbon from that into the atmosphere, more suddenly changing it across the entire globe than anything except a very few possible catastrophic events in the entire billions of years of life.

    ALL organisms after introduction, as humans were onto continents outside Africa (where they had some good population limiters), sooner or later come into ecological balance. It appears that through misguided medical industry, mining/war toys (Bronze was hard to make, and so archaeologists recognize that it was largely useful only for war, to iron and guns), pesticides, are attempting to keep on growing far past the abilities of proper limitation by other organisms. For this reason only, we may remain so out of balance that we cause general ecosystem collapse worldwide – there are indications of this in overfishing and elsewhere right now.
    It will take earth some millions of years to restore diversity and consequent stable ecosystems.

    But each of us is ok. The problem is green revolutions that ended up taking as much as 40% of earth’s photosynthesis for human use. When we die back to a few million, things will get better.
    Remember even the Blue Whale is making a comeback, unless of course, nations are allowed to begin taking whales for human purposes.

  • Natural Man

    We humans evolved from single celled organisms and are intimately a part of nature on Earth. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing we can do that is “unnatural”. We can certainly affect change that is not optimal for our survival or that of other species, but we cannot do anything “against” nature because we are a part of nature.

    Many users of this website fail to understand the concept I am proposing above as evidenced by their self-hating people-bashing regarding behavior by our species. See “Chris the Canadian” above who states “we are parasites”. I do not believe he is stating this as an attempt to actually classify humans as parasites, but rather uses the term pejoritively in a misguided diatribe to further the “green” ecoterrorist movement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gurkunwar Gurkunwar Bedi

    Im just waiting for a mate.

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