Whale dung plays an important role in phytoplankton and contributes, to some extent, to the fight against climate change, according to a Norwegian study.
For the first time, researchers at the Norwegian Marine Research Institute have studied the concentration of nutrients in whale excrement before it dissolves in the sea.
“It may sound disgusting, but for the ecosystem, (whale dung) is worth its weight in gold,” said the institute in a statement published on Thursday (9).
“The idea is simply that these droppings fertilize the oceans like cows or sheep do on land,” they said.
Experts analyzed feces from fin whales caught by fishermen. Norway is one of the few countries in the world that authorize commercial hunting of these cetaceans.
The approximately 15,000 fin whales that migrate every summer to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, in the Arctic, release around 600 tons of dung on the surface of the water daily (about 40 kilos per animal).
According to the study, these feces release, per day, around 10 tons of phosphorus and 7 tons of nitrogen. Both are essential nutrients for the growth of phytoplankton—microscopic algae that absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, converting it to oxygen.
Scientists concluded that whale droppings contributed between 0.2% and 4% of the daily primary production (of phytoplankton) in the Svalbard region.
“The real contribution of whales is probably greater because these estimates do not include their urine, which is very high in nitrogen,” research director Kjell Gundersen told AFP.
Each fin whale releases “several hundred liters of urine” a day.
“If there are fewer whales, there is a risk of less surface fertilization of the oceans,” Gundersen noted.
“More phytoplankton production means more CO2 is absorbedtwo” and, therefore, a small fraction of global warming, completes the researcher.
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