Determining the Great Whales’ Impact on our Climate

The GWC’s Executive Director Michael Fishbach recently met with professors Jim McCarthy and John Nevins in their offices at Harvard University. Jim and John have co-authored scientific papers on the whale pump: the idea that whales literally enrich their own environment and help generate their own food by delivering essential nutrients to the surface as they surface from dives and release feces and urine into the water column. The nutrients provided by the whales stimulate the production of phytoplankton that are not only the base of all life in the ocean, but through the process of photosynthesis both dissolve and sequester massive amounts of carbon, giving us most of the oxygen we breathe and reducing the effects of climate change.

GWC began collaborating with several Harvard labs studying this issue this past winter by collecting fecal samples in the field and sending them to Boston for analysis. Here are some of the questions that we are currently trying to answer:

• How do the nutrients from whale feces chemically stimulate the phytoplankton blooms and what is the mechanism for that transfer?

• How much of a difference would a return to pre-whaling numbers of great whales have on the chemistry of our ocean and atmosphere?

• Which species of whales and in what locations offer the greatest potential increases in carbon sequestration?

GWC believes the answers to these questions may present us with a new, tremendously powerful argument as we advocate for increased efforts to protect the Great Whales and their critical habitats around the world. GWC’s Campaign Director Dr. Gershon Cohen recently met with Christy Goldfuss, Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to discuss the importance of increasing our understanding of the relationship between whales and climate change mitigation, with the implication that in the meantime, we should be doing everything we can to ensure the whales’ long-term survival.

We will keep you updated as this effort continues.

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