Protecting the last great whales is not only indispensable to prevent the disappearance of these charismatic marine creatures from the peculiar evolutionary path, whose existence undoubtedly enriches our lives, is also crucial in the desperate fight against climate change. These cetaceans would in fact provide an invaluable ecosystem service: they are able to seize large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, helping to combat global warming.
The attempt to increase the number of whales could be seen as a benign form of geo-engineering. A large whale absorbs on average 33 tonnes of CO2, while a tree, for example, stores less than 50 kg annually. When the cetacean dies, it sinks, dragging all this carbon dioxide to the bottom of the ocean, where it will remain for centuries.
The volume of phytoplankton during the 20th century has declined dramatically, due to rising global temperatures, even more pronounced where whales have been hunted heavily. Whales, according to a study published in Nature, would also be able to ensure that the plankton remains in circulation in surface waters by simply immersing, through the force of mixing caused by their movements, and migrating. The amazing amount of carbon dioxide seized by plankton, whose survival is linked to that of whales, is comparable to that of four Amazonian forests and seventy times greater than that absorbed by the colossal sequoias of US parks.
Currently, about 1.3 million whales swim in the Earth’s seas, while their number before they were hunted massively was around 4-5 million. If cetacean populations could be restored to their former glory, this would significantly increase the volume of phytoplankton in the oceans and, consequently, the amount of carbon captured each year.
Because whale protection has a cost, researchers have tried to estimate the value of whales, showing that the benefits of their protection far outweigh the costs. Over millions of years, nature has perfected this technique of CO2 absorption, the result of the correlation between large cetaceans and phytoplankton, we have no choice but to protect whales. (source: lifegate.it)
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