A few years ago, I was writing an article about the work that Scott Baker and his colleagues were doing in Japan, uncovering the sale of illegal whale meat in the marketplace using DNA. At the time, Japan was arguing for whaling, largely for two reasons. One, whales eat “our” fish, so they should be culled. And, two, certain whales, such as minkes, are so numerous that they are inhibiting the ability of rare species, such as fins and blues, to recover.
|Dr. Joe Roman, University of Vermont|
As I sat in the back of the class, I drew a diagram based on what I had seen the previous summer in the Bay of Fundy. In contrast to the biological pump, right whales were diving deep to feed--they are sometimes observed with mud on their heads--and quite often defecating at the surface.
A few years later, Jim McCarthy, at Harvard, and I put together a model that showed that whales could have an impact on primary productivity in coastal waters. They increase nutrients at the surface and enhance the growth of algae. This summer, I finally got back to the Bay of Fundy to study the right whale, which forms feeding aggregations just to the east of Grand Manan in an area called the Basin. Of all the ways to collect poop--we typically used a plankton net, patiently following whales until they defecated--perhaps the most dramatic is skirting the edge of a right whale courtship group: one female and several males actively swimming and roiling in the waters. It seemed almost inevitable, the female while swimming on her back would release a thick brown or red fecal plume. We’d wait for the group to swim off--the whales were much larger than our boat--and move in with our net.
|Patch of reddish-brown defaecation from a fin whale. |
The colour indicates the whale was probably eating krill.
Greenish defaecation is most likely from fish consumption.
|Annabel Beichman, Harvard University|