STEAM Education Link - Dr Charlotte Braungardt


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STEAM Education Link - Dr Charlotte Braungardt

Now here is a thought: Fishy breath, trampling and carnage are good things (in the right context).

I was alone on deck, sailing across the Bay of Biscay on a calm and moon-light night, close to midnight when I saw the blow of a huge whale a short distance to port. With each breath the fin whale came closer and I grew more awe-struck and apprehensive in equal measures.

The third or fourth blow was so close that I could smell it. It stank! Temporary nausea quickly gave way to the relief of having been spared a collision as this giant dived deep beneath the yacht with just a tiny bit of turbulence created by its fluke.

The encounter left me with a feeling of wonder and privilege, but little did I know at the time that the oily, fishy exhale of our great baleen whales (and their poop) are important elements of the ocean carbon cycle and therefore, part of the climate story.

A recent article by Christa Lesté-Lasserre in the New Scientist explores the role of animals in climate regulation. Recent research revealed that the feeding, trampling and pooping behaviour of top predators, including whales, wolves and sharks, as well as large herbivores, including bison and elephants are as important to storing carbon as large forest ecosystems and seagrass meadows.

It works in many complex ways: large whales fertilise the surface ocean with their fishy breath and faeces, so microscopic algae can flourish, and with them the whole of the ocean food web. Large herbivores eat vegetation that otherwise competes with tree growth, disperse seeds and maintain grasslands otherwise prone to wildfires. Predators keep prey animal populations in check that otherwise could endanger the growth of plants and algae important for carbon storage.

So all of the elements of natural ecosystems are important for maintaining the planet habitable as we know it.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, although humankind has acted for centuries as if in total ignorance.

Featured Image: Finval by Aqqa Rosing-Asvid – Visit Greenland, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Gallery Image Attribution:
Sharks: Satellite TV Lover, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Bison: inkknife_2000 (7.5 million views +), CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Wolves: Martin Cathrae, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Blue Whale: A. Weith: Blow of a blue whale in the Arctic sea. AWeith, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Algae Bloom: Phytoplankton Bloom in the Bay of Biscay [detail] by NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed under CC-BY 2.0

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