A new study from the University of Vermont found great whales play critical roles in the food chain underwater, and greatly affect commercial fisheries, in part, by releasing of vast quantities of feces.
This might sound a bit difficult to imagine and believe, but this is how it works: great whales, like the sperm and baleen varieties, consume vast quantities of fish. Baleen whales are the largest animals on the planet, yet they eat some of the smallest animals in the water. They then spread these nutrients throughout the water as they pass the digested food. When these massive creatures die, their bodies sink to the ocean floor, becoming “whale falls.” Many species live exclusively within the remains of these behemoths.
Whales plays an important role in the world’s marine ecosystem. Plus, the marine mammals can live several decades, giving these animals the chance to moderate the ecosystem over a significant period of time. But centuries of hunting for food, oil and other resources pushed down the number of great whales around the world. This likely changed the balance of life in the oceans. As populations recover, the ecosystem could also recover, and fishermen who once looked on whales as competition should instead welcome greater numbers of the animals. Regions where the giant mammals eat and mate could be ripe with nutrients and fish, ready to be caught by commercial fishing vessels.