Whales - The Hidden Gems of Carbon Capture

Throughout the race to lower atmospheric emissions, we have seen an array of technological advancements emerge. Likewise, we have also seen many people resorting to age-old practices, known as "earth-tech," such as planting more trees. In a world striving for advancement, looking to the past and current availabilities can, in some instances, result in more significant progress.

Whales - The Hidden Gems of Carbon Capture

Marine sanctuaries off the coast of San Francisco, CA, were looking to the past with the knowledge of how whales can sequester carbon when they conducted their study, finding that whales play a more prominent role than they previously believed in capturing emissions.

The report found that off the coast of San Francisco, roughly 60% of the naturally occurring carbon sequestration resulted from whales. "This is greater than the combined efforts of 'kelp export' - where seaweed moves carbon loads out to the deep ocean - and the carbon-capturing habitats of seagrass and salt marsh."

Natural Sequestration

Contrary to mainstream knowledge, whales not only store carbon in their body but also aid in the ocean's natural ability to store carbon, making their role in climate change remediation all the more critical.

When whales die, a process commonly called a whale fall happens. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration describes a whale fall as such: "When whales die and sink, the whale carcasses or whale falls, provide a sudden, concentrated food source and a bonanza for organisms in the deep sea. Different stages in the decomposition of a whale carcass support a succession of marine biological communities. Scavengers consume the soft tissue in a matter of months. Organic fragments, or detritus, enrich the sediments nearby for over a year."

In addition to providing nutrients for surrounding organisms and aiding in a thriving ecosystem, whale falls result in bringing that stored carbon to the seafloor, effectively cementing it in the bottom of the ocean, meaning that it cannot be released back into the atmosphere.

Some might argue that this knowledge puts whale carbon capture a step above tree carbon capture since the latter releases carbon back into the atmosphere at its end of life, making it only a temporary solution.

Another study uncovered that at their pre-historic numbers, whales "sunk up to 1.9 million tonnes of carbon per year," or roughly 33 tons of CO2 per whale. With this knowledge taken into consideration, the marine Sanctuaries are pushing for an increase in whale conservation with the hook that they can aid in limiting the risk of climate change.

Protecting Whales via Satellites

Various researchers have found that some of the first known whales could walk on land before morphing to their modern-day form due to evolution. Flash forward a few thousand years, when humans were still considered hunter-gatherers, and whales began playing a significant part in civilization as a means of food, leading to an increase in whaling.

Though this practice has lessened significantly due to being outlawed, it dwindled the marine population by up to 90% at its height. Today, whaling doesn't pose as large of a risk as fisheries, which, on average, are estimated to be the cause of up to 300,000 whale deaths per year.

On the bright side, the whale population is improving due to abundant krill and human efforts in some parts of the world. Likewise, an increase in awareness of whales' role in marine health and climate change remediation can result in a more significant number of individuals, organizations, and governments working to restore the species to pre-historic numbers.

The State of California put forth its own efforts to limit the death rate of whales by creating a Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program (RAMP). The program utilizes satellite elementary, vessel, and aerial surveys to monitor the whale's patterns and mitigate their chances of becoming entangled in fishing gear.

This practice is relatively simple in concept and has even been executed before for various other endangered species, showing that sometimes using the technology that is already heavily available might be the quickest and most effective way to mitigate risk.

California's involvement in restoring the whale population coupled with the knowledge of how whales can help curb climate change has the potential to create a lasting effect of change. Further, the continued growth of technological advancement and shift toward alternative energy can result in a bright future filled with innovation and sustainable development.


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