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Blue Whale Poop–Bird’s Eye View

They’re the largest animals in the world. So it’s no surprise that they leave behind quite a trail of Number Two. The photo, captured by photographer Eddie Kisfaludy from a plane off the coast of California, shows two blue whales, each of them about the size of three school buses, and the orange trail left by the one in front. [readon]


You probably wouldn’t want to swim into that, but it’s as important to the health of the oceans as fertilizer is to the land. At Wired.com, Brandon Keim explains it:

Whales are the ocean’s unappreciated gardeners, playing enormous roles in nutrient and carbon cycles. In short — or perhaps in long — their poop helps make the aquatic world go round.

“Whales and marine mammals can fertilize their surface waters,” said Joe Roman, a conservation biologist at the University of Vermont, when shown Kisfaludy’s picture. “This can result in more plankton, more fish, and more whales.”

In 2010, after sampling the scat of humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine, Roman and Harvard zoologist James McCarthy proposed what they called the “whale pump”: A mechanism describing how whales feeding at depth carry nitrogen to warm, energy-rich surface waters, discharging it in “flocculent fecal plumes.”

And they help protect the atmosphere, too:

Marine biologist Trish Lavery of Australia’s Flinders University calculated that defecation by the Southern Ocean’s sperm whales ultimately sequesters some 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide every year — roughly the amount emitted by 400 coal-fired power plants, and more than twice as much CO2 as the whales emitted by breathing. They’re a carbon sink.

Read the whole article here.