First it was cow farts, except they were the enemy of planet Earth, we were told. Now it’s the emission of a much larger mammal, the whale, and it’s not just the gaseous prelude but the main movement that impacts global warming.
In an article in the Guardian crassly titled “Why whale poo matters” (maybe they haven’t heard over in Britain that the only thing that matters these days is black lives), environmentalist and political activist George Manbiot writes:
Not only does nutrient-rich whale poo help reverse the effects of climate change – it’s a remarkable example that nothing in the natural world occurs in isolation.
“I hope that by the time you have finished this article,” the 2,000-word piece begins, “you will have become as obsessed with marine faecal plumes as I am.”
Manbiot goes on to talk about “the remarkable connectivity, on this small and spherical planet, of living processes.” The natural world is so interconnected, he tells us, that human interference can ultimately affect the climate in more ways than we have thus far imagined. Take whale poo, for example:
Studies in the 1970s proposed that the great reduction in the large whales of the southern oceans would lead to an increase in the population of krill, their major prey. It never materialised. Instead there has been a long-term decline. How could that be true? It now turns out that whales maintain the populations of their prey.
How? By feeding at great depths but not defecating until they rise to the surface for air. “What they are doing, in other words, is transporting nutrients from the depths, including waters too dark for photosynthesis to occur, into the photic zone, where plants can live.” These resultant whale “poonamis” (Manbiot’s term) fertilize plant plankton, which krill and fish depend on for food.
Enter the evil human whale hunters, and where they leave their mark, the abundance of plant plankton declines. And with it go the populations that feed on it.
Ultimately, the article unearths practically nothing that is new. Scientists have been writing about symbiotic relationships, good and bad, for centuries now. Somehow you get the sense that Manbiot’s lengthy exegesis of these processes is an excuse to write the phrase whale poo, which he does repeatedly throughout the piece. That includes two iterations approximately a third of the way through, in the sentence “I promised whale poo, and whale poo you shall have.”
Some 2,000 words of it, I would say.