Scientists are going on a major ‘whale poo’ expedition to Antarctica to study how blue whale feces might impact biodiversity.
On the seven-week voyage, scientists will collect poop samples and test a theory that demonstrates how blue whale excretions play a highly important role in maintaining the southern ocean ecosystems, The Guardian reported.
While other whale studies have focused on the breeding and migratory habits of these creatures, the new research will analyze how blue wales help keep Antarctic waters nutritious for other species. Whale poo acts as a marine fertilizer that helps ocean bacteria and phytoplankton thrive underwater. Without whale poo, ocean bacteria and phytoplankton would not be able to recycle iron nutrients and provide food for other animals.
On Jan. 19, the team will depart from Hobart, Australia on the Research Vessel Investigator, a boat funded by the Australian Antarctic Division and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation to conduct the blue whale research.
First, they will use sonar buoys to find whales’ locations and then use drones to collect the poop, which usually has an orange tint and could smell really bad. With this testing, the team can demonstrate how blue whales are critical for ocean biodiversity, unlike penguins and seals that poop on the ice.
“I want to show that whales are ecosystem engineers. Conservation campaigns are usually focussed on their beauty, but that doesn’t convince everyone,” Lavenia Ratnarajah, a marine biogeochemist at the University of Liverpool, told The Guardian. “If we can show how much these animals contribute to the functions of the ocean, then it will be easier to save them.”
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