Carolina Bortoni
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Protecting Our Planet One Whale at a Time

— Carolina Bortoni

According to the first law of ecology as written by the eminent ecologist Barry Commoner, “everything is connected to everything else.” Whales are a perfect example of this—these marvelous animals haven’t just been the biggest and heaviest animals on Earth for the past 4.5 million years, they have also been essential for our survival. 

Whales have been hunted throughout history, and the population of certain species has been reduced by a staggering 90%. Hunting happened for several motives. A primary motive was whale oil, which was used to fuel lamps, lubricate machines, and even to produce bombs in both World Wars. Whale killing was turned into an industry, and hundreds of whales were killed quickly and without second thought. 

However, killing whales causes something called a trophic cascade, an ecological phenomenon that destroys the balance of an ecosystem. These animals are essential to maintaining stability in the sea, mainly because of their movement and feces. For example, movements caused by whales in the sea are responsible for bringing sinking plankton back to the surface of the ocean, where the plankton can receive direct sunlight required to live and grow. Whales also provide a primary source of nutrition for plankton. When they go to the surface of the ocean to breathe, whales release feces that are rich in iron and nitrogen, two elements essential for plankton that also happen to be scarce at the surface. This special way that whales help support plankton by releasing feces is aptly called the “whale pump.”

That’s not all. Plankton is the primary source of oxygen in the world, supplying more oxygen than any forest. These microscopic underwater organisms provide an estimated 85% of our world’s oxygen. By helping plankton thrive, it is estimated that each great whale helps to withdraw 33 tons of CO2 from the ocean surface in their lifetime, a huge step towards combating climate change. 

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These mighty animals make quite the positive impact—let’s do our best to protect them, and our world!