Kill Them for “Research” or Let Them do “a Whale of a Job” for Climate
In the same week we learn that Sperm whales in the Southern Ocean are doing their bit for the battle against global warming, by helping to remove about 400,000 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere a year by releasing large quantities of liquid faeces into the upper layers of the ocean, the international efforts to agree a new deal on whaling have collapsed, leaving in place the rules that allow whalers to kill around 1500 whales a year for so-called “scientific purposes”.
By Wendy Zukerman in New Scientist (28 June 2010)
International efforts to agree a new deal on whaling have collapsed, leaving in place the rules that allow whalers to kill around 1500 whales a year for so-called “scientific purposes”.
An attempt to replace these existing loopholes with a system of quotas for the whaling nations Japan, Norway and Iceland collapsed at last week’s International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Agadir, Morocco.
All whaling nations and most of those opposed to whaling were willing to consider the quota system, which was proposed by IWC chair Cristián Maquieira and vice-chair Anthony Liverpool. Australia, however, was against it from the outset.
The plan would have allowed commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean, currently deemed a “sanctuary” by the IWC – although it’s a sanctuary in which whale-killing is permitted when masquerading as scientific research. The status of whaling in the ocean was one of several sticking points on which consensus could not be reached at last week’s meeting.
A spokesman for the Australian government said his country welcomed the abandonment of the proposal. “The commission must move forward to embrace a contemporary approach that recognises that you don’t need to kill whales to learn about them,” he said.
Addressing the conference on its fourth day, Yasue Funayama, Japanese vice-minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said, “To continue to request the elimination of whaling and sticking to such positions would mean the breakdown of the future of the IWC process.”
Many member nations, including Japan, expressed disappointment at the failure to reach a consensus. Despite the outcome, all members have pledged to continue supporting the IWC.
Deborah Smith, science editor in Sydney Morning Herald (17 June 2010):
SPERM whales in the Southern Ocean are doing their bit for the battle against global warming.
The giant mammals help remove about 400,000 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere a year by releasing large quantities of liquid faeces into the upper layers of the ocean, Australian researchers have calculated.
Trish Lavery, of Flinders University, said whale poo is rich in iron and stimulates the growth of phytoplankton – microscopic plants that soak up carbon dioxide. ”When the phytoplankton die, the trapped carbon sinks to the deep ocean.”
Ms Lavery and her team have estimated that industrial culling of sperm whales has resulted in an extra 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year remaining in the atmosphere. ”It makes a compelling case for an immediate ban on whaling,” she said.
Whales had previously been accused of having a large carbon footprint because they exhale a lot of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. But the study shows they more than offset these emissions by defecating.
Sperm whales, of which there are an estimated 12,000 in the Southern Ocean, dive deep to consume a diet of squid and fish.
The researchers calculated they release about 50 tonnes of iron near the surface in their faeces, which floats around and fertilises the iron-poor waters, increasing phytoplankton blooms.
Although whales exhale about 200,000 tonnes of carbon a year, the net gain is 200,000 tonnes of carbon locked in the ocean for hundreds or thousands of years.
The sperm whales in the Southern Ocean represent only about 3 per cent of the global population, and those elsewhere could also make a significant contribution to carbon removal from the atmosphere, the researchers said.
So could other kinds of whales and sea creatures that feed deep in the ocean and poo in the surface layers where light is available for photosynthesis.
”Seals and sealions often consume prey at depth, but whether the waste is liquid and buoyant requires further investigation,” the researchers said.
Before whaling began there used to be about 10 times as many sperm whales in the Southern Ocean.