Whale Catcher Boats

The wrecked and beached boats shown in this post once broke important connections in Nature. They killed whales. The boat’s purpose could be easily switched from a whaler to a sealer. So, they killed seals as well. These and other boats worked from the whaling stations at South Georgia Island some 800 miles east of the Southern tip of South America. The boats and their crews came close to causing the extinction of the Southern Right Whale and the Blue Whale in the Southern Ocean.

Boats like this, along with other whale killing methods, harvested some 1.4 million individual whales in the first half of the 20th century. ItWhaleCatcherBoat is estimated that the Antarctic Blue Whale population was once 239,000 individuals. The current population estimate is about 4,500 individuals. The carnage figures for other whale species show similar trends. Some 60 years after the practice of whaling ceased, the Blue Whale, the Fin Whale, and the Sei Whale are still considered endangered.

Most of the great whales migrate annually to the nutrient rich Southern Ocean to feed. Here, they become an important part of the food chain as they consume large amounts of krill. The Southern Right Whale and most other large whales are at the top of the food chain – exceeded only by man.

The great whales are an important connection in Nature. They are part of the food chain, serving as predators of plankton, krill,  salmon, tuna, squid and many fish in between. They are also food for sharks, other whales and even the tiniest sea life as their bodies decay after death.

SouthernOceanFoodWebBecause of their huge appetites, whales play an important role in stabilizing the aquatic food chain and reproduction of other species. When algae (phytoplankton) die, they sink and strip iron from the ocean’s surface. Krill eats the algae and whales eat the krill. Whales then excrete the iron back into the water. It is estimated that the iron concentration of whale feces is about 10 million times that of Antarctic seawater. So, whales recycle iron into the surface waters. Their feces become an important fertilizer for new algae growth. Thus, while whales are at the top of the food chain, they have an important connection in Nature with the bottom of the food chain.   

Whale feces  plays a large role in helping to offset carbon in the atmosphere.  Estimates state that as much as 400,000 ton of carbon are extracted from the air due to these whales each year. Studies have shown that the nutrients in sperm whale feces help stimulate the growth of phytoplankton which, in turn, pulls carbon from the air providing a cleaner and healthier breathing environment for all animals.

The good news is that, with international treaties now in place, whaling practices are minimal. Consequently, the great whale populations are gradually recovering. 

 

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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

6 Responses to “Whale Catcher Boats”

  1. I loved the loop connection. Yes, whales are at the top of the food chain, but I didn’t previously know the iron connection – thanks for the info.

    It’s my understanding that Japan still performs illegal whaling under the guise of “scientific study.” This was a huge problem a few years back with sustaining whale population numbers, has it gotten better?

    • Hi Heather: It is my understanding that the “scientific” exemption still exists within the IWC (International Whaling Commission). Japan is not alone. I understand that Korea might be also jumping in. Norway and Iceland have done some commercial whaling in recent years. However, I don’t have the latest info on who is or is not doing whaling – either commercial or scientific. You might want to check an old post I wrote about my feelings as I visited the defunct Stromness whaling station on South Georgia Island ( http://www.patternsinnature.org/blog/2011/farewell-to-stromness-2/ )

  2. You should put some food webs about Atlantic salmon.

    • Thank you for your suggestion. As per your request, I will do a post on Atlantic Salmon. It will be very interesting and new for me because, when I did do posts on Salmon, it was the Pacific Salmon.

  3. Rowan says:

    Hi,
    I was wondering if you had a reference for the food web you used in this article?
    I was hoping to use it in a report if that’s OK with you.
    Thanks,
    Rowan

    • Hi Rowan: Thanks for your comment.

      There are numerous references and pictures on the Internet. Simply Google “Southern Ocean Food Web”.

      You are welcome to use any part of my blog.

      Best wishes !!!!!

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