The International Whaling Commission (IWC) are meeting this week and one of the key topics of conversation is whale poo.

One reason given by Japan, Norway and Iceland to support continued whaling is that whales cause declines in fish stocks. However there is now evidence that whales actually help to increase fish stocks, and it’s all to do with their poo…

Research has shown that whale poo brings a supply of nutrients to the surface which encourages the growth of phytoplankton, krill and fish.

The resolution which will be voted upon by IWC members states:

“Increasing scientific evidence shows that whales enhance ecosystem productivity by concentrating nitrogen and iron near the surface through the release of faecal plumes. Iron defecation from whales stimulates carbon export into the Southern Ocean, and thus whales play an important role in regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.”

Check out more information here.

As a side note: Did you know that whale poo is also useful in many other ways? Samples of whale poo ‘faecal samples’ can be used to assess the health status of whales populations. Analysis of whale poo allows us to identify hormone levels associated with pregnancy, metabolism and stress. It can also tell us about the whales exposure to parasites and toxins as well as providing a DNA sample for both the whale itself and of its prey species.

Fun fact: Sniffer dogs can be used to locate whale poo floating on the surface so that it can be collected for analysis.

Check out more about whale poo sampling and analysis in a paper by Hunt et al. (2013).


The main image in this blog post is: A valuable contribution. By: Reinhard Dirscher/WaterFrame/Getty