News / Science & Technology

Study: Great Whale Droppings Prove Key to Ocean Health

Great Whales Rebound as Marine Engineersi
X
July 09, 2014 8:47 PM
In the heyday of commercial whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries, whales were killed by the tens of thousands. By the time an international moratorium was put in place in 1986, some populations of the giant marine mammals had declined by an estimated 66 to 90 percent. Since then, whale populations have rebounded and, as VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they are improving the ocean environment.
Rosanne Skirble

Valued for their meat and oil, whales were once considered of little consequence to the ocean.

But a new study suggests great whales -- Baleen, Sperm, Humpback, Blue and Gray -- have a powerful and positive impact on how the ocean works.

“They can increase nutrients in areas where they are feeding," said University of Vermont conservation biologist Joe Roman, lead author of the study. "So whales dive deep to feed. They come to the surface and, as it turns out, they defecate or they release whale poop at the surface. That has lots of nitrogen and other nutrients so it can increase productivity in areas where whales are feeding. ”

Study: Great Whales Have Enormous Impact on Ocean Health
Study: Great Whales Have Enormous Impact on Ocean Healthi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X


Whales continue to service the ocean even when they die and sink to the deep sea. 

“That also brings nutrients down there and lots of habitats for species that depend entirely on those whale falls,” Roman said.     

After centuries of decline, great whales are steadily repopulating their historic breeding and feeding grounds. And they have a healthy appetite. Some commercial fisheries argue the whales are eating too many other fish and taking a big bite from their profits.

But experts argue opposite is true.      

“I think the classic view was ‘too many whales, not enough fish,’" Roman said. "But our study and several others are starting to show that it is far more complicated, more interesting than that, that is when whales are in a healthy ecosystem, we can have more fish and more whales at the same time.”  

When whales die, their bodies sink to the ocean floor and become habitat for many sea creatures. (Credit: Craig Smith)
When whales die, their bodies sink to the ocean floor and become habitat for many sea creatures. (Credit: Craig Smith)

Roman argues whales are being blamed for poor fishery management. 

“If we can restore our waterways, if we can better manage our fisheries, we are going to find that we will have more whales for us to enjoy as well as more fish for commercial fisheries, for recreational fisheries,” he said.

But even as whales rebound, they are not immune to human threats in the ocean. They are run over by container ships, caught in fishing nets, and disturbed by noise from ocean traffic and sonar signals.

“Shipping is increasing in the Arctic, plans for offshore oil and gas are increasing," said Margaret Williams, who directs the World Wildlife Fund's Arctic program. "And so World Wildlife Fund is working with government and communities and industry and other conservation groups to identify those areas that are very, very important for whale species, for migration areas, for feeding areas, and we’re recommending those areas receive special management attention.” 

Williams says whales deserve this protection.  They are, as the study underscores, more valuable than whalers ever imagined -- to us, to fisheries and to the ocean itself. 

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid