Following up on my recent post about whalers being early and unintentional environmentalists, here's some interesting news coming out of the University of Maine. A study conducted by researchers from the university, in addition to the University of British Columbia and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, outlines the enormous carbon sequestering ability of whales and other large marine species; an ability that puts these animals on a par with other carbon storing organisms like peat bogs, grasslands and trees.
As an example, a blue whale can store up to 9 tons of carbon, surpassed only by large trees. But since the populations of blue whales have been reduced by as much as 99 percent, the planet has lost a vital source of carbon sequestration. Andrew Pershing, one of the Maine research scientists, describe the loss of potential carbon storage due to a century of whaling as the equivalent of burning more than 70 million acres of temperate forest or 28,000 SUVs driving for 100 years.
Many scientists have proposed "iron fertilization" as a method for sequestering carbon in the oceans. This process bonds iron particles with carbon and then, as the iron sinks into deep ocean depths, it takes along with it an amount of carbon. Pershing, whose research was supported by NASA and the National Science Foundation, sees whale conservation as equally if not more effective.
Pershing noted, “The big surprise was in our calculations comparing carbon exported by sinking whale carcasses to the carbon exported by iron fertilization. If we had all the whales we used to have, they would remove the same amount of carbon in a year as 200 of the most efficient iron fertilization events. What that tells me is that we can get significant carbon savings by conserving resources in the ocean, protecting whales, larger fish and sharks.”
Additionally, The larger whale and marine species prove to be more efficient at carbon storage than smaller species. While all animals absorb some measure of carbon (we're carbon lifeforms, remember?), the larger animals require less food (which equates to carbon) per unit of weight. The same amount of food can support more whale tonnage than, say, compared to penguins.
As the University of Maine reported in a recent press release, according to Pershing, “In many ways bigger is better.” Any whale could have told us that.
Read the University of Maine press release.