Sometimes we find unexpected utility in something we didn’t see at first glance. For example, have you ever thought about the advantages of whale excrement? Probably not. But these huge animals have a lot to offer.
It is evident that they eat a lot. It was found that they eat three times as much as estimated. This also means that they defecate more. And according to scientists, this is very good news. The findings were published in the journal Nature.
They feed on groups of small fish or crustaceans, including krill. And their excrement is a source of nutrients for ocean ecosystems.
“We want to protect the whales. We need to know how much food they need to survive.” Says lead author Matthew Savoca of Stanford University.
That’s what the study was all about. What were the results? A humpback whale in the northeast Pacific eats two metric tons of krill each year. The amount and type of prey consumed depends on the whale. An adult North Pacific blue whale will consume 16 tons of krill. The North Atlantic right whale, five tons of small zooplankton.
“They eat more than we think. They also recycle more nutrients than we think,” says Savoca.
When they defecate, they recycle nutrients, including iron, back into the sea. They are consumed by smaller ocean creatures like phytoplankton. And this helps keep the oceans healthy.
The decline of whales slows the process. Whaling was brutal between 1910 and 1970. Some species like the humpback whale have recovered in recent years. But others are not faring so well. North Atlantic right whales, for example.
“We would need to imitate the whales. By artificially adding iron from ships,” says Savoca. The benefits of whale excrement directly impact marine life. Savoca hopes his study will help conservation efforts. He suggests simple changes. For example, slowing shipping traffic along common whale routes. Something so simple, it can have “big positive effects”.