Whale Poo Ambassadors
by Jörn Selling
When we were contacted by the Dutch foundation "Rugvin" about their " Whale Poo Ambassador" programme, it sounded strange and funny at first. The fact that whale faeces are an important resource, albeit only indirectly for us humans, has now been proven and even calculated. It is quite remarkable to have the idea of Whale Poo ambassadors promoting it. However, creative approaches are needed to raise awareness of the problems we cause.
One of the biggest is the climate crisis. We are well on the way of losing our most important ally against it: nature with its biodiversity, where every species contributes to stabilising the climate. The Earth would have a different climate without the biosphere; it maintains it for its survival. We are also part of the biosphere, but a destabilising one. So much so that we must currently be classified as a biological catastrophe, triggering the sixth mass extinction.
But back to the whales. They are at the top of the food pyramid, like wolves. And also, like wolves, whose return has revitalised nature in Yellowstone National Park, for example, whales are "top-down" controllers. Without them, biodiversity would be limited. They fertilise the upper layers of the sea with their excretions so that phytoplankton (plant microalgae) can thrive - and boost the food web.
When whales die and sink down to the bottom, they feed the creatures in the deep sea, where food is scarce. In this way, large amounts of carbon bound in the whale are also taken out of the atmospheric cycle for thousands of years. They are like floating trees, carbon sinks. Ralph Chami, "Assistant Director" at the "IMF Institute for Capacity Building" has tried to calculate the performance of whales in the publication Finance & Development. The 8 largest whale species sink 30,000 tonnes of CO2/year. If their populations could recover to original size, it would be 160,000 tonnes of CO2/year. Their excretions mentioned above also contribute by keeping phytoplankton, which dies and sinks, bound in the marine sediment. Thus, the 12,000 Sperm Whales in the Southern Ocean remove 200,000 tonnes of CO2/year from the atmosphere.
At the current price of one tonne of CO2, and adding other economic services provided by whales, such as ecotourism, one comes to a value of $2 million for the lifetime service of one whale. For the entire whale population? About 1000 billion dollars! Good reasons to protect them.
It would be nice if such calculations were not necessary. Hopefully they will help us get on our feet.