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Mindful conservation – why we need a new respect for nature

'We should look at whales and dolphins as the indigenous people of the seas -...
tins of whale meat

How Japan’s whaling industry is trying to convince people to eat whales

Japan's hunters kill hundreds of whales every year despite the fact that hardly anyone in...
Common dolphins © Christopher Swann

Did you know dolphins have personalities?

Kidzone - quick links Fun Facts Our Goals Curious kids Kids blogs Fantastic fundraisers Gallery...
Microplastics on beach

Blue whales and the menace of microplastics – how we’ll solve this problem

Our love affair with plastic began in the 1950s when it revolutionised manufacturing. But what...
A dolphin called Arnie with his shell.

Dolphins catch fish using giant shell tools

In Shark Bay, Australia, two groups of dolphins have figured out how to use tools...
Common dolphins at surface

Did you know that dolphins have unique personalities?

We all have personalities, and between the work Christmas party and your family get-together, perhaps...
Leaping harbour porpoise

The power of harbour porpoise poo

We know we need to save the whale to save the world. Now we are...
Holly. Image: Miray Campbell

Meet Holly, she’s an incredible orca leader

Let me tell you the story of an awe-inspiring orca with a fascinating family story...

You are Whale-Come for this "Pootiful" Day!

Saving whales may save us all

You are Whale-Come for this Poo-tiful DaySee what I did there? I was able to craft an appreciation for whales and their feces in what some would say was an incredibly clever and punny (there, I did it again) title.  Perhaps the “some” would only be me, but you are still reading so I will continue…..

Cape Cod whale watch captains often refer to humpback whales as “dumps”.  In the spring and summer, as the VHF radio traffic buzzes nonstop, it’s not uncommon to hear a voice crackle over the radio reporting “I have a couple of dumps on the corner” or “two dumps and a finner out east”.  The double entendre of referring to a whale as a “dump”, perhaps because humpbacks are so frequently seen taking a “dump”, should make you grin for reasons beyond potty humor.

Some years ago, I wrote a blog about why we should be thankful for the millions of gallons of defecation whales added to the Gulf of Maine each year. Each summer, I love to take the opportunity to educate our Cape Cod tourists about the volume of whale poo generated off our coast each day.  Their reaction to my information is particularly interesting if I tell them when they are incidentally getting a taste of the salty bay water as they take a swim (never mind that salt water taffy is a local staple). The reality is that the fact that I exist on this planet is due in large part as a result of whale poo, which only increases my fascination with the stuff 

 

We have known for a while that whales are an important part of the ecosystem and recently released research not only confirms it, but shows that whales are actually helping to drive the ecosystem.  According to this latest research, large whales help to keep the planet healthy both while they are alive and even when they die, providing they are left in their watery world to fulfill their roles as “ecosystem engineers”. 

Because large whales often feed at the depths of the ocean but choose to relieve themselves at the surface, they move nutrients throughout the water column creating what the researchers refer to as the “whale pump”.  Using the surface as their bathroom stall is the perfect setting to fertilize the tiny, plant-like phytoplankton which spend their time in these sunlit waters, photosynthesizing to produce their own food.  The happy byproduct of that process is most of the earth’s oxygen that mammals breathe, a food base for commercially valuable fish, and the absorption of carbon.  The phytoplankton are like a tiny army fighting climate change, fed by whale poo.  Because large whales migrate, traveling thousands of miles each year, they create a mass transit system for nutrients across ocean basins. 

Just like all of us, there comes a day when each whale must meet his/her maker, however, that doesn’t mean they stop working.  Even in death, whales play a role. A “whale fall” or carcass, that sinks to the depths becomes host to a mini-ecosystem of its own, supporting generations of bacteria, crabs, snails, and worms, each of which goes on to play their role in keeping the oceans healthy as a result. 

The lesson here is that whales do their jobs quite well if left in the oceans to do them. Whales are NOT our competitors in the oceans, vying for the same foods that we eat. They may, quite literally, be our saviors. Perhaps it is time to view whales not as a food source, but as the producers who cultivate our foods; not as a source of entertainment, but as the engineers that enable us to live a life where we can be entertained.   

Whaling and captivity are not “cultural” choices that we can afford to ignore. Ship strikes and entanglements are not someone else’s problem.  Pure and simple, saving whales is not reserved for those often stereoptyped as “tree huggers”, it’s for any one of us who wishes to continue to eat and breathe. 

So let us properly pay respect to the poo, and the whales who generate it, before it’s poo-late.

About Regina Asmutis-silvia

Executive director - WDC North America