If we Save the Whales we Can Bring Back the Ocean

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Though many people may have told you to save the whales, but has any one told you to save the whales because they are hard workers? Whales are the biggest living animals on the planet, and there’s a reason for it. It isn’t just because they eat tonnes of food, nor that they’ve been around so long. Whales are big because they carry a huge responsibility. The health of the oceans rests heavily upon their backs.

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What responsibility could whales possibly have?

Being a whale probably sounds pretty easy, you are a huge animal with little to no predators who swims around the world and eats all day. While traveling and eating lots of food is a dream most of us strive to achieve, we also know that we have to work for it. So how do they pull it off? Whales are giant fertilizing machines.

If whales are removed from the ocean, the waters would become more stagnant and eventually little to nothing would be able to grow. Sea plant life is heavily dependent on nutrients that, in surface waters, tend to be scarce. But don’t worry, whales are able to propagate and share these with the rest of the seas.

How do whales fertilize the ocean?

Just like on land, when plants and animals die they go back into the earth, are decomposed, and become nutrients to be consumed by plants. Except for the ocean is really deep… Where it’s deep it is dark, and as we all learnt in 2nd grade science class, plants need light to do photosynthesis. Put simply, the bottom of the ocean is a treasure trove of untouched nutrients that aren’t being harvested.

This is where the whales come in. These peaceful giants swoop down in to the deep ocean and feed on deep dwelling organisms. On their way back up their large powerful bodies stir up the waters bringing nutrients up to the shallows. Not only do they stir up the water they share the goodies that they’ve eaten. How might you ask? The answer is by poopin’ and peein’ all over the place.

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Whale tail spotted in Catalina islands in Costa Rica on a beautiful March

Image Credit goes to my friend/student Nathan Mobach author of Sir Handsome Hank a DiveMaster Blog. 

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You’ve got to be Shitting me….

Nope, a whales job is to eat lots of food and create giant messy clouds of feces. Ocean plants find it most difficult to acquire two things: iron and nitrogen. Animals such as krill (a favorite among many whales) are high in Iron. Especially when you consume up to 2 tonnes of them a day. Whales, though very large, do not require all of the iron they consume and therefore share the excess by passing it through the other  end.

Despite passing the whales rear the plants still enjoy the iron. They are  able to absorb this iron which in turn allows them to grow providing more food for the krill. If you think back and remember how the predator prey cycle works, you will know that more krill means that the  whale population can increase. What’s odd, is that this nutrient cycle is a positive feedback loop which benefits all parties involved. This means that krill populations will not decrease with more whales, rather it will increase.

And what about that nitrogen?

Whale pee. These big fellas whizz out lots and lots of nitrogen another plant favourite. The reason for that is again due to deep dwelling animals. At the bottom of the ocean there’s lots of nitrogen which is absorbed by the local inhabitants. Those locals get gobbled up by whales and taken to the surface to be excreted and used as plant fertilizer.

That’s so cool! Good thing there is a lot of krill!

Wrong. The oceans krill are dying. First there was a huge decrease in whale populations which also decreased krill populations. Then to follow that up there had been a rapid change in ocean climate due to the melting of the polar ice caps. The increase of fresh water has made the ocean less salty while changing water temperatures everywhere. In warmer climates the water is becoming colder and the coldest parts of the ocean are warming up. Then you add a drop in the purity of the water due to oils, detergents, and chemicals, add a few million tonnes of plastic pollution every year ad you’ve got a big problem.

Some super cool scientists decided to research the krill and found out that the more polluted the water became, and the more the temperatures changed, the harder it became for the krill to adapt. It was also found that surviving krill had to eat more, and their bodies had to work harder to survive. This cause the krill to become less nutritious, meaning less nitrogen and iron for the whales and the plants the krill feed upon. This could lead to a very vicious cycle of

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Whale surfacing for a breath of fresh air, and exercising that blowhole. This while came very close to our boat along with another adult whale and calf. Talk about a lucky day!

Photo taken by Ranelle Ivens author of SeaReina’s Call

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SAVE THE WHALES!

Yes, save the whales indeed. Luckily, we have made some big improvements to protect these magnificent giants. In fact, there are even some populations on the rise such as the blue whale, bowhead whale, and humpbacks. So, at the very least, we are doing something right! However, in many countries including the USA and Canada Whaling is still legal, and whales still face many threats. These include climate change, plastic waste, and water pollution.

How to help

  • Avoid products containing whale (lamp oil, some soaps and cosmentics, tennis rackets, cooking oils etc.)
  • Stop using single use plastics
  • Recycle more
  • Avoid harsh chemicals and cleaners in your home
  • Tell your local government/politicians to make whaling illegal you can also ask them to take further steps to help save the whales such as banning whale products
  • Educate yourself and others on whales
  • Donate to organizations that will help save the whales and the ocean!

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Ranelle’s addiction to SCUBA started in 2004. From a young age she has been fascinated by the ocean and the creatures living within it. Her Ultimate dive dream is to swim with Orcas and to dive the world. Ranelle is a certified PADI Specialty Instructor and spent 3 years in university studying Science and Biology.

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