Whale poop fights global warming

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From the Sydney Herald

Southern Ocean sperm whales are an unexpected ally in the fight against global warming, removing the equivalent carbon emissions from 40,000 cars each year in their faeces, a study shows.

The cetaceans have been previously seen as climate culprits because they breathe out carbon dioxide (CO2), the most common greenhouse gas.

But this is only a part of the picture, according to the paper, published in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

In a heroic calculation, Australian biologists estimated that about 12,000 sperm whales in the Southern Ocean each defecate around 50 tonnes of iron into the sea every year after digesting the fish and squid they hunt.

The iron is a terrific food for phytoplankton – marine plants that live near the ocean surface and which suck up CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

As a result of faecal fertilisation, the whales remove 400,000 tonnes of carbon each year, twice as much as the 200,000 tonnes of CO2 that they contribute through respiration.

By way of comparison, 200,000 tonnes of CO2 is equal to the emissions of almost 40,000 passenger cars, according to an equation on the website of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The whales’ faeces are so effective because they are emitted in liquid form and close to the surface, before the mammals dive, said the paper.

Industrialised whaling not only gravely threatened Southern Ocean sperm whales, it also damaged a major carbon “sink”, the scientific term for something that removes more greenhouse gases than it produces, it added.

Before industrial whaling, the population of this species was about 10 times bigger, which meant around two million tonnes of CO2 were removed annually, said the paper.

Read the rest here

Moshpit says:In terms of net carbon flows it would appear that man is lower than whale..err stuff. Al Gore has announced an adopt-a-whale program whereby celebrities can gain carbon credits for adopting a whale. Rosie O’Donnell has been signed as the spokesmodel for the program and Bill Gates is funding a geo-engineering effort to seed the worlds oceans with  psyllium seed husks to forestall any climate catastrophes that would result from irregular whales.

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Severian

Wait, is it April 1st?

Why is CO2 being indicated in this report as the most common greenhouse gas? I thought that that water vapour had that distinction?

Ted Dooley

Uhhhh… wasn’t the iron already in place before the whale “recycled” it??

What organization are the researchers with?
Was it Conscientious Researchers Analyzing Phytoplankton – C.R.A.P. ?

H.R.

Yeah, but… how much methane do whales produce? Not all of those bubbles you see are coming from the spout end.
(BTW, how much CO2 do they exhale? They have some honkin’ big lungs.)

John W.

“The cetaceans have been previously seen as climate culprits because they breathe out carbon dioxide (CO2), the most common greenhouse gas.”
Whoever wrote that sentence is completely insane.

bubbagyro

These academes are so absurd. The iron comes from where? Do whales create it from fusion inside their million degree innards? It comes from plankton, directly or indirectly.
But they don’t need to. Iron is the most abundant element on this planet, ahead of nitrogen and silicon!
We have seen so many of these illiterate, unreasoned articles from academia. It’s like the old adage, “You can always tell a Harvard graduate…you just can’t tell him much.” This goes for almost all of the top universities these days.
I suggest we give out red rubber nose and orange hair awards to the “best” of these. I nominate the present paper. Beep! Beep!

“because they breathe out carbon dioxide (CO2), the most common greenhouse gas”
– back to the school, amateurs.

bubbagyro

Another mistake in the paper says that whales were 10 times more prevalent before whaling. Who was counting? Another made up fact.
It turns out that there are more whales now than at any time in the past 50 years. Moreover, they are so numerous that they out compete other species because of lack of many natural predators.
From Ellis, R. (1994). Monsters of the Sea. The Lyons Press. p. 245. ISBN 1592289673:
Sperm whales are prodigious feeders and eat around 3% of their body weight per day. The total annual consumption of prey by sperm whales worldwide is estimated to be about 100,000,000 short tons (91,000,000 t) — a figure greater than the total consumption of marine animals by humans each year.
Whales are out-competing us for nutritious food…and we are letting them!

HLx

Oh, my god! This is one of the most stupid articles I’ve ever read!!!
Don’t fish eat these plankton? And whales eat fish? And plankton eats whale poo? And fish eat plankton?… Well, think you’ve got the picture now…
Anyhow, to remove the CO2 entirely from the system, carbon has to deposited. How does the CO2 get deposited? This makes no sense…
More questions:
Doesn’t plankton eat fish-poo too???? Wouldn’t fish be a more efficient way to get a temporary carbon storage, than a whale, which is higher in the food chain?? (The higher you go, the less efficient it gets).. stupid is what stupid does…

Rich

Just a shame that Pres Obama looks like he’s going to back a vote to allow commercial whaling again.

“The cetaceans have been previously seen as climate culprits because they breathe out carbon dioxide (CO2), the most common greenhouse gas.”
uhoh. wouldn’t that make all humans and all animals and, nearly all life on the planet into “climate culprits”?? these people themselves are “carbon culprits”. they should do something themselves to “save the planet”… like stop exhaling. harsh, true, but it’s for the planet!

Will the Japs have to pay an extra carbon tax then?

Ian E

This IS an April fool, right?

Rhoda R

Whales noble; man bad.

DirkH

What would we do without such scientists? It’s wonderful what modern instruments, pocket calculators and computers enable scientists to do. They’re worth every cent in taxpayers money they got! The pinnacle of humanities quet for knowledge. Thanks, scientists! Keep up the good work! Could we learn more? Penguin faeces, maybe?

anopheles

Can anyone explain how this changes the net amount of iron in the sea? The question is so obvious that I must be missing the answer.

Layne Blanchard

Fascinating how every pet desire of the left fits so neatly into the warming narrative. Even the fixation on locally grown vegetables get credit because they don’t require shipping to a distant destination. Too bad they’ve shut off the water to the central valley to save the Delta Smelt. We’ll have to settle for the e-coli crop from Mexico instead.

Layne Blanchard

The iron comes from their blood. Old blood cells are excreted in feces. True with humans also. So poop away, fellow humans! You are saving the planet!
Seems I recall someone suggested using a fine iron dust salted into the oceans to cause a plankton bloom to suck up CO2. This idea OF COURSE was discarded since it didn’t achieve the goal of forcing the financial collapse of Capitalism.

Sean

Don’t you just love the politizaton of science. On the positive side, saving whales saves us from climate change. On the negative side, computer modelers were able to prove that those stubborn midwestern senators still using coal to make electricity would suffer more global warming than anyone else and the sea level would rise higher in Washington DC than in most other places. And they were able to figure these things out just before crucial votes in Congress.

Enneagram

This is part of the post-normal-creed “weltangschauung”, which includes the belief in global warming, the adoration of misterious “dark holes”, the reverence to “anti-matter”, the preach of a messed up and stringy universe, where solar “wind” accelerates without a known cause, where phantoms and monsters abide, to scare innocents while priests gather alms for buying their private jets to make their trips to paradise islands or selected tropical resorts, where they use to meet to deliberate about the future of humanity and how to govern those pesky and foul smelling commoners.

kwik

The best thing to do is to kill all animals. I mean ALL.
And let Gaia exist alone with just her threes and grassy knolls.( And Al Gore?)
Yes, the final solution.

So, to put this in perspective, if the whale population was 10 times bigger then it’d offset volcanic emissions by about .87% – not terribly large since volcanoes don’t contribute much CO2.
Compared to decaying plant matter, such a massive increase in whales would offset .0000009% of those carbon emissions, which means we only need 133.3 billion, BILLION, sperm whales to offset CO2 from decaying plants – a mere x20 times the human population of earth and 15,000 times our mass.
Yep, we need to get started on a sperm whale breeding program right away. 🙂

Pull My Finger

I will now apply for a grant to research the contents of my poop after various meals, find an ideal CO2 absorbing diet, publish my results, and apply for my own self-sustaining carbon offsets.
What a bunch of… well.. s**t.

richard telford

anopheles
Its not the total amount of iron that is being changed, but its distribution.
The surface waters in the Southern Ocean have low iron concentrations, and this limits photosynthesis. The whales are feeding at depth, and so bring the iron in their food back to the surface where it can enhance photosynthesis.
The full paper is available (free) at http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2010/06/14/rspb.2010.0863.full

Enneagram

New Bill ….To Shut Down The Internet
LOL!, then who, among you, inhabitants of the once proudest nation on earth, will be the one who will have to turn lights off?
May I suggest AL BABY for that task?.

B. Smith

[quote]Sperm whales are prodigious feeders and eat around 3% of their body weight per day. The total annual consumption of prey by sperm whales worldwide is estimated to be about 100,000,000 short tons (91,000,000 t) — a figure greater than the total consumption of marine animals by humans each year.[/quote]
I didn’t realize we humans prey upon and eat plankton! This “study” is cyber toilet paper, appropriate for this gigantic pile of whale chit.

D. King

Oh yummy!
Finally, some good news.
http://tinyurl.com/2cl8wtc

hunter

The Daily Onion is such a great source of humor…wait!@#@? you mean this is a serious article?
CAGW is hazardous to intelligence and critical thinking.

bubbagyro

richard telford says:
June 16, 2010 at 11:42 am
See, this is the type of misinformation that gets spread around. Many seem to wallow in the feces of the warm-earth eco-scholars, taking their outflows as great wisdom!
Just go to you tube or some such video place and see sperm whales feeding on the surface! Most of the prey for top-line predators in the sea live in the sunlight, or epipelagic zone, the first 200 meters. Whales occasionally dive for squid into the mesopelagic zone, which extends only 1000 meters. Any iron would exist at the benthic region, or at the very bottom, where they cannot go. Unless they stir up the iron in the clay at the bottom with their tails! On purpose, perhaps, to save the earth???
There is such an overabundance of iron in the sea, that it is not rate limiting. Nitrogen in the sea is limiting.
This is why we have red tides and other algal blooms in the sea around river mouths that spout fertilizer out. It’s the nitrogen and phosphate pollution, showing that these nutrients are the rate limiting ones.
As an aside, I think it is a good thing that Inuit and Japanese eat whales. Culling keeps the pods healthy. Why do you think so many pods beach themselves, apparently victims of viral disease? The population, when it gets too high, gets catastrophically managed by Nature. Just like any herds, for health they need to be managed.

Jimbo

What a crock!!! I call BS on this one or rather CS. :o)

bubbagyro

Richard:
I checked out one of the authors of the “scholarly article” you cited.
Along with the other definitely not first tier Australian university authors (although being junior colleges does not disqualify them out-of-hand, of course), one of them (Genevieve Johnson, let’s call her “Gennie Baby”) is from a society called earthOCEAN.
From their website:
earthOCEAN is a unique media production company based in Melbourne, Australia. We use cutting-edge digital technologies to communicate science, environmental, wildlife, news and current affairs topics to the public in a way that inspires and informs.
Yeah, I’ll just bet they are “experts” and should probably get a Nobel Prize.

L. Bowser

B. Smith: I didn’t realize we humans prey upon and eat plankton! This “study” is cyber toilet paper, appropriate for this gigantic pile of whale chit.
Neither do sperm whales. They primarily eat squid, which is definitely sold as Sushi or Calamari.
As far as the study goes, the whales are taking iron that has been removed from the ocean and “sequestered” in sea life that lives deep in the ocean and returning it to the surface, where it can be used to fertilize phyto-plankton. Since a lot of the iron in the oceans comes from wind blowing soil into the ocean and erosion, anything that nature does to recycle iron back to the surface, in theory, helps increase iron concentration. But let’s be honest, were talking about a gnat on an elephant’s you know what in terms of scale.

jonjermey

“Rosie O’Donnell has been signed as the spokesmodel for the program…”
Um… maybe they need to talk with their advertising agency.

Gus

I have some old steel pipes in the garage that I’m looking to get rid of. Maybe someone will give me some cheap carbon credits if I throw them in the local river. I can assure them that they will rust and send iron oxide down-stream to the ocean. Sounds like a plan to me.

Rhoda R

Does any poo do or does it have to be whale? I’m thinking that maybe we should start pumping raw sewage back into the ocean since it’s so good for the environment.

Might this be an argument for not picking up my dog’s crap?

richard telford

bubbagyro
Sticking to the substantive arguments, rather than the ad hominem –
In most areas of the ocean N is limiting, but in the southern ocean Fe is the nutrient limiting photosynthesis, and there is excess N. Read the references cited by Lavery et al (2010) or Google “iron limitation southern ocean”.
The iron the whales are transporting is in their food.

Z

richard telford says:
June 16, 2010 at 11:42 am
anopheles
Its not the total amount of iron that is being changed, but its distribution.
The surface waters in the Southern Ocean have low iron concentrations, and this limits photosynthesis. The whales are feeding at depth, and so bring the iron in their food back to the surface where it can enhance photosynthesis.

Does whale crap float then?

richard telford

Z
Read the paper: it’s online, its free. It explains their assumptions, including which components of the faecal material sink (the squid beaks) and which parts are retained in the photic zone – the remainder representing 75% of the iron.

Rik Gheysens

I should take this article more seriously. I read another short article in Knack (Flanders – Belgium) June 9, 2010,that I translate here:
The largest whales grow up to 100 tons and live about a century – if we leave them alone anyway. Therefore, large-scale whaling can be seen as the ocean equivalent of large-scale deforestation. The hunt of last century would have released 105 million tons of carbon, the equivalent of cutting of 50,000 square miles of forest. Or, to put it more clearly, they would have caused carbon emissions of 128,000 SUV over one year. Compared to the total balance of carbon in our atmosphere, this is not gigantic.
One can hunt in order to keep a species healthy but what is happening now is that the whales and fish will be exterminated within twenty years without having a clear insight of what was their impact on the CO2-equilibrium. Is a human the most stupid species of all animals?

Z

Rhoda R says:
June 16, 2010 at 11:03 am
Whales noble; man bad.

Penguins cute; polar bears cuddly; photoshop ubiquitous.

DirkH

“richard telford says:
[…]
In most areas of the ocean N is limiting, but in the southern ocean Fe is the nutrient limiting photosynthesis, and there is excess N. Read the references cited by Lavery et al (2010) or Google “iron limitation southern ocean”.
The iron the whales are transporting is in their food.”
You a whale poop doctor? That must be so exciting!

Pascvaks

I’m telling you, one of these days the AGW mob is going to put two and two together and we’re all going to be in a pickle. Don’t anyone, I mean anyone, tell them that the ultimate solution has to do with a nice little green virus that only kills people by the billions. It’s bad enough that it won’t be long before fish and seafood are going to be off the menus, along with corn and soybeans and every other plant product. There’s really only one solution, like I said, and if we’re not careful they’re going to figure it out before….WE INTERUPT THIS ENTRY TO BRING YOU A MESSAGE FROM BIG BROTHER, PLEASE STAND BY…

DirkH

“Enneagram says:
June 16, 2010 at 11:32 am
This is part of the post-normal-creed “weltangschauung”, which includes the belief in global warming, the adoration of misterious “dark holes”, the reverence to “anti-matter”,[…]”
Enneagram, don’t criticize anti-matter! It’s the only thing that will help us against…
materialism.

Al Gore's Holy Hologram

What a load of shite

“The cetaceans have been previously seen as climate culprits because they breathe out carbon dioxide (CO2), the most common greenhouse gas.”
I thpught the most common greenhouse gas was water vapour. Maybe we need to stop peeing too.

Z

richard telford says:
June 16, 2010 at 1:12 pm
Z
Read the paper: it’s online, its free. It explains their assumptions, including which components of the faecal material sink (the squid beaks) and which parts are retained in the photic zone – the remainder representing 75% of the iron.

I see what the problem is. The bit that says Whales defecate near the surface because they shut down non-crucial biological functions when diving (Kooyman et al. 1981). While a significant proportion of zooplankton and fish defecations is in the form of faecal pellets, which sink below the thermocline where they are rendered unavailable to phytoplankton (Le Fevre et al. 1998), is ambiguous.
I was reading it as defacation of fish and zooplankton, when it could be defacation by fish and zooplankton. These ones sink – other whale crap floats (apparently) – hence the confusion.

Bruce Cobb

Their argument that whales “remove” 400 kt of carbon, besides being moot in terms of its effect on climate, is also patently absurd. The C02 is mostly just recycled, as the whales (as well as seals, penguins, squid, fish, and even some humans) consume the krill, which consume the phytoplankton which consume iron and C02. The only way phytoplankton can actually sequester the carbon is if they die and sink to the sea floor.