Sustainability Sunday #44

Where there’s a whale there’s a way…

I remember my first visit to London’s Natural History Museum. A most magical place for children and adults alike, full of information for a hungry mind and what more astounding greeting could there be for a 9-year-old than the enormous skeleton of a creature extinct for centuries?

This week, the Natural History Museum has traded the iconic skeleton of Dippy the dinosaur with the equally enormous skeleton of Hope the blue whale. Weirdly, I found this quite sad, for the skeleton has been there as long as I can remember. I also found it sad because what if, in years to come, Hope has the same wonder of extinct species like Dippy?

So following this momentous change in British culture, and 47 years after being officially classed as endangered, I’m sharing with you the 3 reasons why blue whales are so important for the environment and society.

First, here’s some curious facts:

  • Adults can measure up to 30 metres
  • The maximum recorded weight of a blue whale is 173 tonnes (which is the equivalent to 33 elephants (ref: WWF)) which makes it the largest animal to ever have existed
  • Their tongue alone weighs as much as an adult elephant
  • It is the loudest animal in the world, with their calls being louder than a jet engine – it’s estimated at 188 decibels, a human speaking voice is only 60 decibels.
  • Their stomach capacity is around 1000 kilograms of food
  • The social side of a whale’s brain is similar to humans. They form strong parent-child bonds, protect members of their pod from danger even if it endangers themselves and even “play” with one another.

Now here’s why they’re so important:

1. Whales maintain a stable food chain – in particular, ensuring that certain animal species do not overpopulate the ocean. This has a direct effect on our food chain as it influences our supply of seafood.

2. Poop is important – whale poop actually assists carbon sequestration in the oceans, helping to reduce the effects of climate change on the planet. How? Nutrients released in the poop stimulate the growth of phytoplankton which are a sequestering organism.

3. Developing developing countries – Whale watching is now a very popular tourist attraction. I’m unsure of how I feel about the sustainability of this as it does mean that there are boats travelling across the ocean, burning fuel and releasing pollution into the air and sea. However, it generates great awareness for the species and marine ecosystems and also generates lots of income for the developing countries bordering the oceans that the whales inhabit who all put money back into the protection of the ecosystem.

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