Imagine huge satellites with some sort of carbon capture nets on them, orbiting the atmosphere and removing millions of tons of carbon through their way. How lucky would humans be? Could we ever get to that advanced technological level? 

That we don’t know yet… yet what we do know is that we already have many of those giant carbon sponges, just that instead of floating in the air, we have them diving largely in the vast oceans that surround our highways and refineries. Whales. They are not only cute, but according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a big whale can capture around 33 tons of carbon during their lifespan-around 90 years-, whereas an oak tree could capture 12 tons over 500 years[1]. Plus, the “death” effect, once a poor massive whale carcass falls to the bottom of the ocean, it leaves those 33 tons of carbon conserved practically forever on the seabed.

Though I must confess that the number is large, it is not that much if we think that a single person in the US consumes 16 tons of carbon… annually. We would need to saturate the ocean with orcas to kind of compensate, and that may be cute yet not feasible at all.

But whales come with a special bonus track: Phytoplankton… which happens to absorb between 30%-40% of the carbon dioxide emitted on the entire planet in a single year, the number changes according to different studies spread all over the internet, yet no matter which, it is massive, there is nothing else like this. Thus, phytoplankton is crucial, then so are WHALES.

Whales are like the bees of the Ocean, think of pollination on a massive scale. Wherever whales move they bring with them this entourage (and poop) of iron and nitrogen…which is precisely what phytoplankton needs to grow. Either by the “whale pump” when they emerge vertically to the surface, or by the “whale conveyor belt” when they move all around planet Earth. The Amazonas may not sound so unique anymore. 

Whales are amazing. There are 90 different types, some have teeth, and some do not, these are the baleen whales-baleen is like a curtain of hair in their mouths made of the same keratin as human’s nails. These baleen/toothless whales include the big ones as the blue, the humpback, and the recently (all over the news) rediscovered in Argentina, the gray Sei. The other toothed whales-aka odontocetes- include the Sperm whale, which was the main character of the timeless classic “Moby Dick”, and one that needs no intro: Orcas aka killer whales. They are all different and beautiful. The sound of their songs comes up as “relaxing melodies” on YouTube and Spotify. 

Yet, everything done to whales has been sad and cruel. From harpooning and exploiting grenades in their heads, kidnapping and keeping them in human-made prisons-aka aquariums-, to the latest one, taking away the one thing that baleen whales eat: krill. Every southern summer, massive vessels from around the world arrive at Antartida just for the whole purpose of fishing krill. This “krill crime” is not only propagated by China and Russia, that “may” have their own feud with the West, but Norwegian company Aker Biomarine leads the way, promoting itself on its website as “the world’s leading supplier of krill” …they also have a tag on Sustainability, as now everything is sustainable these days, crazy. Imagine moving yourself through miles to reach your only dining spot, and it’s closed. And it’s not like the Antartida and Alaska are around the corner. Krill harvest is banned in the US.

As a kid, when I learned that the largest animal on Earth was the blue whale, I associated the fall in their population with a meteorite or some Earth-related condition, just as dinosaurs did. Classic disassociation, like forgetting that Pepa is the same pig that never saw the light and ended up as cheap ham in the frozen row of a supermarket.

But no, this is why whales have almost vanished:

  • Whaling. Norway, Iceland, and Japan still allow it. 
  • Pollution and Plastic. The Ocean is dirty and full of fishing gear. It’s common to read on the news about dead whales, either entangled in fishing nets or full of plastic in their digestive system.
  • Bycatch: According to the WWF, bycatch kills at least 300,000 whales every year[2].
  • Sound pollution. In the dark, sounds are the traffic lights for whales, and the ocean is becoming an Ibiza club these days. 
  • Vessel Strikes.  

All these are happening today… and if ocean mining gets approved it will be complete madness.

By 1900 pre-whaling times, there were around 350,000 blue whales populating our oceans. Blue whales today could be around 10,000-25,000. And like that, all types of whales have gone down in numbers. Big whales maybe half a million. It’s not many.  And the formula doesn’t help. Calves are born every 2-3 years, and between whaling and bycatch, and now slowly starving them to death… Our stuffy carbon catchers won’t have a chance to help.

It’s time to ACT. No matter the reason, defending them as carbon capture machinery, or because we want them to be more than a Spotify track. A single person can do a lot for whales. The power of demand must never be underestimated.  What to do?

  • Don’t eat whale meat and be vocal about it. Most of the whale hunters portray whale hunting as a patriotic event. This can’t be farther from the truth, and this lie needs to be brought up.
  • Don’t eat too many fish or no fish at all. Bycatch is the result of fishing. The fishing industry has crossed the line and is destroying everything related to marine life. Even Wall Street defends the stock market. Plus, fish has mercury.
  • Don’t eat anything related to krill.  Get Omega 3 from non-processed food, it’s even better. And it’s simple, no krill, no whales, more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

And collectively, we need to put pressure on Governments to stop their own whale killers, or to go after other Governments that protect their whale hunters and anything else that can put in jeopardy the existence of whales… such as bottom trawling and krill catching.

This could be done by voting for officials who have proposals aligned with whale protection, and whale and krill protection should even be added to commercial treaties.  Countries have annoyed each other for way less important things. 

The Ocean covers 71% of the planet, it’s a three-dimensional dark world that unfortunately can remain hidden if there is no effort to look underneath. Yet, turning a blind eye to what is happening to it, it’s like putting Galileo on trial all over again and sending proven science to the toilet with his ashes. This is not the 1600s anymore. We have satellites, we have penicillin, we can do better. There are many things to act on to pick the tiny, yet might start. 

I already made up my mind that I won’t ever see a polar bear out in the wild. Crazy. But I do keep my hopes that someday I will see a very big, very blue whale, because there will be so many that running into one wouldn’t be a big issue. And there will be so many because their habitat will be wild and diverse, and so our air will be clean and fresh.




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