Researchers say whales could play an important but overlooked role in tackling the climate crisis


The largest whales in the world are more than just amazing creatures. Much like a file OceanResearchers said whales could help save humanity from the accelerating climate crisis by sequestering and storing carbon emissions that are warming the planet.

In a paper published Thursday in Journal of Trends in Ecology and EvolutionClimate researchers suggest that whales are important, but often overlooked. carbon leakage. The sheer size of these marine mammals, which can reach 150 tons, means they can store carbon more effectively than smaller animals.

And because whales live longer than most animals, some for more than 100 years, the paper said they could be “one of the largest stable living carbon pools” in the ocean. Even when they die, the whale carcasses descend to the deepest parts of the sea and settle to the sea floor, trapping the carbon they stored in their strong, protein-rich bodies.

The indirect way that whales can be critical carbon stores is through their feces. Whale poop is rich in nutrients that can be absorbed by phytoplankton – tiny organisms that absorb carbon dioxide as they grow. When they die, the phytoplankton also sink to the sea floor, taking in small bits of carbon in their dead bodies.

Carbon sequestration helps mitigate climate change, because it sequesters carbon that would otherwise occur Planet warming elsewhere for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Yet the whales are threatened, with Six of the 13 species of whales are large It is classified as threatened or vulnerable due to threats including industrial whaling, which has reduced whale biomass by 81%, as well as entanglement with hunting gear, climate-induced changes in prey availability, noise pollution and more.

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Heidi Pearson, lead author and researcher at the University of Alaska Southeast, said the research shows protecting whales has a dual benefit — helping to wipe out whales. Biodiversity crisis As well as man-made climate change.

The paper brings together all the available research on how whales serve as important carbon sinks. With the growing need for nature-based solutions like planting trees to help solve the climate crisis, Pearson said it’s important to understand the ability of whales to sequester carbon.

“You can think of protecting whales as a low-risk, low-remorse strategy, because there’s really no downside,” Pearson told CNN. “What if we protect it and get the benefits of the ecosystem in addition to the carbon?” She said there is no risk to this strategy compared to expensive, untested carbon capture and sequestration solutions, such as Geological engineering. There has been a lot of research and analysis on the contribution of whales to carbon storage over the years.

In 2019, economists at the International Monetary Fund attempted to quantify the economic benefits of whales. The The first analysis of its kind It looked at the market price of carbon dioxide, then calculated the total monetary value of a whale based on how much carbon it captures, as well as other economic benefits such as ecotourism. The average value of the Great Whale has been estimated at two million dollars.

But there are still significant knowledge gaps to fully determine how whale carbon can be used in climate change mitigation policies. Asha de Vos, marine biologist and founder Authentic In Sri Lanka, he said it is important to recognize that whales have “more to offer than beauty and charm”, and that protecting them is key to a properly functioning ocean ecosystem.

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“But, as the authors suggest, we should not overemphasize the role of whales in these spaces because we don’t have enough research,” de Vos, who was not involved in the study, told CNN. “Fundamentally, whales won’t save our oceans or our planet on their own, but they likely play a role in the larger system.”

While Pearson continues to research whale carbon in Alaska, particularly delving into the indirect pathways in which whales can be carbon sinks, she said she hopes the current paper will prompt policymakers to consider whales an important part of climate change mitigation strategies.

It’s another layer linking the biodiversity crisis to the climate crisis—but for now, Pearson said she and her team will be back in the field to fully estimate the carbon impact on whales.

“Whales are not a silver bullet to save the planet; it’s just one small thing we can do amid many other things we need to do for climate change,” Pearson said. “We just need to tell the science story.”

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