FAN­TAS­TIC BEASTS and where to find their poo

First News - - FRONT PAGE - by Ian Eddy

SCI­EN­TISTS are pre­par­ing for a seven-week trip that they’re de­scrib­ing as “the most de­tailed whale poo ex­pe­di­tion ever”.

Ex­perts will be set­ting off from Aus­tralia in Jan­uary, in a re­search ship called In­ves­ti­ga­tor. Af­ter us­ing sonar to track down blue whales in the South­ern Ocean, the ex­perts will then use drones to take sam­ples of the crea­tures’ poop.

“It stinks like rot­ten fish!” says re­searcher Lavenia Rat­nara­jah. “We don’t wear a mask – you tend to get used to it!”

The poo of blue whales is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant for the life cy­cle in the South­ern Ocean, as it’s packed with iron. This iron is vi­tal for the growth of phy­to­plank­ton, which are mi­cro­scopic plants that use the sun’s en­ergy and CO2 from the air to grow, just like land plants. In turn, these phy­to­plank­ton are eaten by crea­tures like krill, which is the main food of blue whales and other an­i­mals. In fact, an adult blue whale can eat be­tween 2-8 tonnes of krill in one day!

Be­cause blue whales re­lease their warm, liq­uidy poop near the sur­face of the ocean (sorry if this is too much in­for­ma­tion…), it’s a per­fect fer­tiliser for phy­to­plank­ton and helps to keep nu­tri­ents re­cy­cling in the ocean.

The ex­pe­di­tion by the Com­mon­wealth Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion (CSIRO) and Aus­tralian Antarc­tic Di­vi­sion aims to com­pare how much of the ocean’s iron comes from whale poo, and how much comes from other sources, such as un­der­wa­ter vol­ca­noes and melt­ing sea ice.

Blue whale poo helps to feed the tiny plants in the ocean that take CO2 out of the at­mos­phere

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