Pooping in the pool OK…for whales

2 mins read
19 Nov 2021

Here’s a few poo facts that will brighten your day:

1. Whales are the largest animals on Earth, ever.
2. The more that whales eat, the more they poo.
3. Whale poo is really, really big.
4. The effect of whale poo on the ocean is really, really big.

Whales act like giant fertilisers of the ocean, said Vanessa Pirotta, a marine ecologist at Macquarie University.

‘Whales feed in one area, and poo in another … so they are able to move huge amounts of biomass from one area to another,’ said Dr Pirotta.

Poo mountains. Poo islands.

Whale poo is rich in nutrients such as iron. These nutrients are suspended in the poo at the surface of the ocean, which means they fuel blooms of microscopic phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are at the bottom of the food chain; they feed the smallest fish, which feed the bigger fish and so on, all the way up the food chain.

We humans, as apex predators, need phytoplankton.

Some people refer to this as the iron pump,’ Dr Pirotta said, referring to the environmental cycle that nourishes us all.

So, we need whale poo, lots of it, and Nicolas Pyenson of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, agrees. He is co-author of a new study published in the journal Nature that has, for the first time in history, put a figure on the amount whales eat and the importance of whales to our survival on this planet.

Tons. More than all the all-you-can-eat buffets Homer Simpson ever encountered, put together. But these food-fests are good for us all.

‘Our results say that if we restore whale populations to pre-whaling levels seen at the beginning of the 20th century, we’ll restore a huge amount of lost function to ocean ecosystems,’ Nicolas Pyenson says. ‘It may take a few decades to see the benefit, but it’s the clearest read yet about the massive role of large whales on our planet.’

This is just one of the reasons we have established the Gowings Whale Trust. Help us keep the poo pool full. Check out the full story at the ABC, with some amazing images (not of poo).

And thanks to all the scientists searching for new ways to save our whales and let us mention poo 17 times in one story.
Let’s make it a round 20?
Poo, poo.

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