[Update  December 1, 2023.
Also see our article featured on the BBC’s “Making Planet Earth III” page.

This blog is full of it – whale poo and how it enriches life on Earth.

That’s one of the key messages of the BBC’s Planet Earth III footage we were involved with. We spent many hours ensuring whale poo was filmed. That footage, with narration by Sir David Attenborough, will have aired for the first time in Europe on December 3rd, America on December 16th, and in Canada on April 21st.

While we’re clearly very serious scientists, you may notice an occasional crappy pun in this blog.

HW 2014 09 04 JH NW Plumpers 4026
The red colour of Inukshuk’s (BCZ0339) waste suggests
he has been eating a lot of krill.
Photo ©MERS, Marine Mammal License MML-57.
Conger HW 2015 08 05 Blackfish Sound BPaterson
By contrast, Conger (BCY0728) appears to have been eating a lot of fish (we know him to feed on a lot of juvenile herring). Photo ©MERS, Marine Mammal License MML-57.
2020 09 04 14 40 17
Photo ©Ocean Wise, Marine Mammal License MML-18.

Why Whale Poo Is So Important

Whales may feed at depth but they always defecate at the surface. As a result they bring nutrients from deeper water to the surface. This is referenced as the “whale pump“ (Roman and McCarthy, 2010).

In the photos in this blog, you can see how this poo spreads out and does not sink. Thereby, the “flocculent fecal plumes” fertilize the plant-like plankton (phytoplankton) at the surface. With more phytoplankton, there is more food for the food web and more photosynthesis by which oxygen is made and carbon dioxide is absorbed.

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How the whale pump works from Roman and McCarthy, 2010.

It’s poo-fect!

And it’s not just whale poo that helps we humans who have put too much carbon into the atmosphere. The whales are also literally acting as carbon sinks when they die and their bodies go to the bottom of the ocean.

It’s estimated that every large whale sequesters approximately 33 tons of carbon. That’s the equivalent of around 30,000 trees (Chami et al., 2019):

Oh, and baleen whales like Humpbacks also transport nutrients from the cold-water feeding grounds to the warm-water breeding grounds when they urinate. This is known as the Whale Conveyor Belt.

The Economics of Climate Change – IMF F&D | December 2019
From Chami et al., 2019
2019 08 19 16 19 39 Spike
Spike (BCX1847) defecating. She has since died from being hit by a large vessel.
Photo: Ocean Wise, Marine Mammal License MML-18.

How we hope that by being involved with Planet Earth III will lead to meaningful conservation action – for the whales and all that depends on them.

Whales inspire. Whales connect. Whales aid human survival. They remind us of mistakes made and capacity for positive change. May human values contribute to a future deserving of whales.

Please see our website for how you can get involved – www.mersociety.org
Sign up for our newsletter to see just how much your support fertilizes.

IMG 4424

More from the International Monetary Fund’s report:

HW 2011 10 04 JH Stubbs 1103
Conger defecating again. Photo ©MERS, Marine Mammal License MML-57.
HW 2017 08 30 JHildering Weynton 2092
Merge (BCX1348). Photo ©MERS, Marine Mammal License MML-57.

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