Research scientists are finding out just how valuable whales are to improving the air we breathe and ocean water quality.
Pacific Humpback Whales were sighted the first week of October this year by a NOAA researcher on a boat en route to Molokini. Early sightings are not unusual, and are welcomed by scuba divers on Lahaina Divers charters and landlubbers alike. But did you know whales play a key role in the health of our environment?
Let’s take an in-depth dive to learn more about these majestic mammals and their environmental contribution.
Cleaning up the Atmosphere
The way whales live in the ocean creates essential oxygen. The activity of feeding, excreting waste, migrating and diving between the surface and the deep sea pumps essential nutrients throughout the ocean. Marine ecosystems benefit, including the growth of phytoplankton which takes in a massive amount of carbon from the earth’s atmosphere.
Whales also act as a highly efficient carbon capture mechanism themselves. They absorb carbon throughout their long lives. When they die, the sequestered carbon goes with them to the ocean floor- literally a carbon sink!. It is estimated that a humpback whale sequesters 30 tons of CO2 on average, taking that carbon out of the atmosphere for centuries. In comparison, a tree absorbs only up to 48 pounds of CO2 a year.
Threats to Whales
Unfortunately, commercial whaling removed many of these mighty icons from the ecosystem. According to scientists, mass slaughter of whales in the 19th and 20th centuries may have actually contributed to accelerated climate warming. Even though now protected internationally, Iceland and Japan still actively engages in whaling. Using scientific permits, fishermen are able to sell whale body parts commercially..
Protecting Our Favorite Visitors
Every winter, thousands of Pacific Humpback whales travel to the warm, shallow waters around Maui, Hawaii to mate, give birth, and raise their young. While the reported sighting was early this year, we will continue seeing activity through April, and sometimes into May on Lahaina Divers charters. You may hear whale songs while scuba diving. Often you will see mother, calf or male escorts breaching out of the water on the way to and from our dive sites. There is nothing quite as spectacular in nature as a 45-ton whale breaching out of the water and coming down in a thunderous splash.
Whales don’t just benefit Hawaii waters. Due to migration patterns, the all corners of the globe realize environmental benefits from whales.
We can all help in our own way by reducing our carbon footprint, using reef-safe sunscreen and reusable water bottles instead of plastic when out on the ocean. However, realizing the value whales provide to the environment is the first step in understanding a much larger picture for our future.
Now you know this spectacular show of nature is not just amazing to observe, the species are helping to protect the environment too.
Learn more in this article from the International Monetary Fund, including the economic value whales bring to industries and the environment.