Smelly Business – Importance of Whale POOP in the Marine Ecosystem!

Did you know?

The marine ecosystem is highly dependent on WHALE POOP to support many of its other living inhabitants!

Yes, that’s right! Out of the many important things the ocean needs, is the defecation from Whales.

Experiments conducted had shown high levels of concentration of nitrogen in humpback fecal samples(Roman and McCarthy). This nitrogen is essential as a fertiliser to help promote the growth of Phytoplankton and other microbes. In turn, these Phytoplankton are the Primary Producers of the ocean (just like plants), which serves as a crucial food source for many other marine life including filter-feeding Zooplankton and Krill.

Here is a diagram taken from the journal article The Whale Pump: Marine Mammals Enhance Primary Productivity in a Coastal Basin.

Figure 1 from WHALE POOP 3 JA
This diagram is taken from the Journal Article “The Whale Pump”. It depicts the nitrogen cycle in the Ocean via the Whale Pump. Nitrogen often sink down to the lower levels of the ocean by the Biological pump ( by fecal pellets, vertical migration, and death of marine organisms). As whales such as the Humpback whale feeds on the deeper levels of the ocean, they soon act as transporters of Nitrogen when they frequently go back up to the surface to breathe. Thus acting as “The Whale Pump”. Defecation by whales can occur at any depth of the ocean, including the region where phytoplankton are located near the surface (for they require light for photosynthesis).

The experiment had also found samples of Phytoplankton and other microbes that use the Nitrogen (In ammonia) within the fecal samples collected from the tagged Humpback Whales.

Cetaceans deliver approximately 77% of the nutrients released to the gulf by mammals and birds

With a high contribution towards the recycling of nutrients in the large ocean bodies, there is no doubt that Whales play a crucial role in maintaining these marine ecosystems. The absence of these massive creatures could result in a devastating imbalance to food chains and webs.

Moreover, the existence of these whales in their regions provides a constant food supply that is sufficient to support many of the marine life which depends on it. This in turn translates to ensured individual species survival and reproduction.

I hope you have learnt something new today, and perhaps this knowledge of can translate into, and inspire future innovations to fully utilise every single resource that we have.

Not all waste are waste.

References:

Roman, Joe, and James J. McCarthy. ‘The Whale Pump: Marine Mammals Enhance Primary Productivity In A Coastal Basin’. PLoS ONE 5.10 (2010): e13255. Web.

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