Losing the ocean’s trees
Decades of whaling and fishing for the largest species have altered the ability of oceans to store and sequester carbon, according to a team of marine researchers from the University of Maine, the University of British Columbia and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI).
An individual whale contains a huge amount of carbon, an amount only exceeded by the largest trees, says Andrew Pershing, a research scientist with a joint appointment at UMaine and GMRI who led the team. A century of whaling equates to burning more than 70 million acres of temperate forest or 28,000 SUVs driving for 100 years, he says.
“We tend to think of carbon storage in peat bogs, trees and grasslands, not in animals,” Pershing says. “By removing whales, sharks and large fish, we’ve reduced the amount of carbon stored in these populations.”
Larger marine vertebrate species and the largest individuals in the species should be a top conservation priority, according to the researchers, whose findings on the impact of whaling on the ocean carbon cycle were published by the international Public Library of Science (PLoS).