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What Whale Poo Looks Like
Let’s talk about whale poop. It’s messy, it’s stinky and it floats on the surface in woolly tufts. But because the topic of whale poop doesn't come up in everyday conversation or even in lists of whale facts, most people don't know that whale poop is the Miracle-Gro of the ocean, rich in nutrients and vital to the health of marine ecosystems.
According to research from the Australian Antarctic Division, whale poop is about 10 million times more concentrated with iron than sea water. Here's why:
- Iron is found in algae (phytoplankton) on surface waters
- Krill eat the algae
- Whales eat the krill
- The iron eventually ends up back at the surface in the form of whale poop
- The algae use this iron for growth
This is a simplified version of what actually happens, but you get the idea. It’s a self-sustaining system with a very high level of production. Algae serves as the base for the aquatic food chain, so the more whale poop there is, the more abundant the ocean will be.
But that’s not all—this system also reduces global warming. The algal blooms act as carbon traps because they take up carbon as they grow and don’t release it until they die. Dead phytoplankton can sink to the ocean floor where they (and their carbon) are soon covered up by other sinking material. Think of it as a carbon landfill that disposes of what would otherwise accumulate in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. So even though sperm whales in the Southern Ocean have been found to release 220,462 tons of carbon when they exhale, their poop draws down 440,925 tons of carbon and helps offset greenhouse gases.
The colour and consistency of whale poop varies by species. Red poop, for example, is a telltale sign of a diet high in krill. Check it out: