A powerful tool in reversing the effects of climate change lies not in a laboratory, but in our oceans’ waters. Earth’s largest mammals, the great whales, absorb an average of 33 tons of CO2 each throughout their lifetime. According to a report published by researchers at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “whale protection must rise to the top of the global community’s climate agenda.”
Blue whales are the largest, but the nine species that complete the great whale family are Fin, Right, Sei, Sperm, Bowhead, Bryde's, Humpback, Gray, and Minke whales. Great whales eat krill, fish, zooplankton, phytoplankton, and algae. Whale poop acts as a fertilizer for phytoplankton. Phytoplankton contributes at least 50% to all the oxygen on the Earth and transfers 10 gigatonnes of carbon from the atmosphere into the deep ocean each year. According to the report, that level of carbon capture is as much as 1.7 trillion trees, or four Amazon rainforests. In addition to their living bodies and diets, great whales’ carcasses also remain on the bottom of the ocean for centuries and continue to consume CO2.
The researchers argue that if the whale population were allowed to grow to pre-whaling numbers, around 4 to 5 million, they would capture a massive 1.7 billion tons of CO2 annually.
Sadly, whale populations have been reduced by pollution and hunting over the years. In the last century, scientists believe the largest cull of any animal in human history occurred with three million cetaceans killed by whaling. Governments around the world have focused on what they have assumed are more lucrative prospects when it comes to fighting global warming. With this new study, it’s clear that whales have a super-sized role to play in the fight against climate change and their protection has value. The authors of the study put the value of one great whale at more than $2 million, taking into account the value of carbon removed over the whale’s lifetime.