Whales could play a crucial role in the fight against climate change

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Did you know that whales can influence the amount of carbon in the air and water?

Not only are they amazing to look at, researchers found that the whales may be instrumental in helping fight climate change.

A new report from the University of Hawaii at Manoa explored how whales can influence the amount of carbon on land and potentially contribute to the overall reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“Understanding the role of whales in the carbon cycle is a dynamic and emerging field that can benefit both marine conservation and climate change strategies,” the oceanographers said.

[READ MORE: Experts urge caution as many mother, calf humpback whale pairs arrive in Hawaii]

This is why:

Whales can weigh up to 100 tons, live for more than 100 years, and be the size of large airplanes.

The researchers said their large biomass is made up mostly of carbon, and they believe the whales may be the largest living carbon store in the ocean.

“Their size and longevity allow whales to exert strong effects on the carbon cycle by storing carbon more effectively than small animals, ingesting extreme amounts of prey, and producing large volumes of waste products,” the study authors said.

The researchers also discovered that the whales play a crucial role in increasing photosynthesis and carbon storage.

According to the study, whales consume up to 4% of their massive body weight daily in krill and photosynthetic plankton; for the blue whale, this equates to almost 8,000 pounds.

When they finish digesting their food, their droppings are rich in important nutrients that help these krill and plankton thrive, increasing photosynthesis and carbon storage.

What’s even more interesting is that when whales die and their bodies fall to the bottom of the sea, the carbon they contain is transferred to the depths of the sea as they decompose.

As shown in the diagram, when a whale decomposes in the deep sea, it supplements the biological carbon pump.

A team from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, including oceanographer Craig Smith, published...
A team from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, including oceanographer Craig Smith, published their findings that advocate understanding the potential for the planet’s largest animals to sequester carbon in the deep sea to help combat climate change.(University of Hawaii at Manoa)

However, commercial whaling has decreased whale populations by 81%, leaving unknown effects on the biological carbon pump.

“Whale recovery has the potential to enhance the ocean’s carbon sink in the long term,” the researchers said.

They added that more management interventions and stronger conservation efforts must be made to increase the whale population.

Source