Whale poop is probably the largest excrement in the world, but with that excrement comes the fact that the bright orange poop fertilizes the ocean’s surface, allowing more plankton to grow and, in turn, more whales.
Marine biologists believe that whales are essentially the gardeners of the ocean, playing a huge role (no pun intended) in both nutrient and carbon cycles, reports Wired. Joe Roman, a conservation biologist at the University of Vermont, stated:
“Whales and marine mammals can fertilize their surface waters. This can result in more plankton, more fish, and more whales.”
Roman and Harvard zoologist James McCarthy took samples of humpback whale poop in the Gulf of Maine in 2010, coming up with a theory about the “whale pump.” McCarthy described how whales that feed at depth carry nitrogen to the warm, energy-rich surface of the ocean, where they then discharge it in “flocculent fecal plumes.”
The term flocculent means that the whale’s excrement is fluffy or wooly in nature, allowing it to float. While previous research had focused on the downward drift of carbon and nitrogen flows, the new discovery pointed to a way that surface waters are being recharged, which stimulates plankton — and anything that feeds off of them.
Roman stated that:
“Although other air-breathing vertebrates, such as seabirds and seals, can also pump nutrients to the surface, none are as large, or as abundant, as baleen whales were before the age of commercial whaling. [Blue whales’ feces] must have a large impact on their ecosystems.”
Newser notes that, with the addition of plankton from whale poop, the tiny whale food is helping in the fight against climate change. In a plankton’s life cycle, it sucks in carbon while it grows, carrying it to the ocean floor when it dies and sings. While birds, seals, and other marine mammals help to enrich the ocean’s surface waters, none of them can do so on the same scale as whales.