Video: How Whales Help Sequester CO2

Candice Gaukel Andrews April 30, 2015 18
whales and boat

The activities of whales help to counter rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, caused mostly by the activities of humans. ©From the video “How Whales Change Climate” by Sustainable Human

We know that the world’s forests—boreal, temperate and tropical—play a large role in sequestering carbon dioxide (CO2)—as long as drought, harvesting, insect damage and wildfires don’t overpower them. But we may have another “champion” helping us to combat rising CO2 levels: whales.

In what’s known as a trophic cascade (defined as an ecological process in which predators in a food web suppress the abundance or alter behavior of their prey, thereby releasing the next lower trophic level from predation or herbivory), whales help to sustain the entire ocean system. While they eat tons of fish and krill every year, whales actually help to keep them alive.

By plunging up and down, whales kick sinking plankton back up into the photic zone, giving it more time to reproduce. ©From the video “How Whales Change Climate” by Sustainable Human

According to the video below, produced by Sustainable Human and published on November 30, 2014, whales feed at depth in waters that are often pitch-black. When they return to the surface, they release fecal plumes rich in iron and nitrogen—nutrients often scarce in surface waters. In this “photic zone” at the surface, there is enough light for photosynthesis to happen, and the iron and nitrogen provided by the whales fertilize the plant plankton living in that sector.

That’s not the only thing whales do to keep plant plankton alive: their plunging up and down kicks sinking plankton back up into the photic zone, giving it more time to reproduce before it drops into the abyss forever. More plant plankton feeds more animal plankton, on which larger creatures then feed. So, it could be argued, more whales mean more fish and krill.

Whales are champions of the Earth. ©From the video “How Whales Change Climate” by Sustainable Human

The plant plankton, which proliferates with help from the whales, not only feeds the animals of the sea, it also absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere. When the plankton eventually does sink to the ocean floor, it takes this carbon dioxide down with it, where it will remain for thousands of years. The more whales there are, the more plankton there is. The more plankton there is, the more CO2 is drawn out of the air.

This Sustainable Human video suggests that when whales were at their historic populations, before their numbers were drastically reduced by indiscriminate whaling, they may have been responsible for removing tens of millions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere every year.

It’s an interesting chain of events to ponder—and the kind of positive, upbeat environmental message we could use a lot more of.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. Xinci Tan May 29, 2015 at 11:23 am - Reply

    Very cool! How intricately linked the life forms on earth are!

  2. Jerri Irene Goldstein May 29, 2015 at 11:23 am - Reply


  3. Saskiya Richards May 11, 2015 at 5:24 am - Reply

    That’s really interesting and surprising.

  4. Ramakrishna Venkatasamy May 7, 2015 at 4:30 am - Reply

    As long as we continue to consider species as individuals that can be removed as we wish, and not as part of a whole system that constitutes life on earth, then we would simply display total ignorance of a system that we are part of too. Remove one component of the system and the system fails to function.

  5. Abhijit Ghose May 4, 2015 at 4:59 am - Reply

    Video is very informative. Every creation in this planet has a purpose but we are often ignorant of it.

  6. Varvara Vladimirova May 3, 2015 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    Very interesting video. It’s really sad that the first thing people think about is “better for us”, “more for us”, like as if nothing else exists.

  7. Laura Israels May 3, 2015 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    Thank you Candice. Wonderful video, just like “How Wolves change Rivers”. It is fascinating how ecosystems are much more complicated than we humans often think. That is the beauty of ecology. It is so complex.

  8. Griselda Casas Infiesta May 2, 2015 at 6:29 am - Reply

    Very very interesting and totally agree!

  9. Brenda Robinson May 2, 2015 at 6:28 am - Reply


  10. Kevin Linton May 2, 2015 at 6:28 am - Reply

    Now that really would be amazing, Don. However, Trophic Cascade has now been shown fairly clearly with the reintroduction of Wolves and highly likely with Whales in the Oceans (as presented by the article and video). It should now be considered as an important aspect of the environmental story and be encouraged and planned as a rehabilitation tool.

  11. Rick Asensio May 2, 2015 at 6:26 am - Reply

    Thank you Candice.
    Boy! have I learned a LOT today!

  12. Katalin Czippan May 2, 2015 at 6:25 am - Reply

    Excellent video providing evidence that every species matter and natural processes are “well designed”. We, the human beings have to accept it instead of destroying.

  13. Anne Weaver May 1, 2015 at 11:57 am - Reply

    Interesting chain of events!

  14. Flavio E. Vásquez T. May 1, 2015 at 6:04 am - Reply

    Whales are so important for the planet!

  15. Ramakrishna Venkatasamy May 1, 2015 at 6:03 am - Reply

    Interesting video Candice, thanks for sharing. We have stressed too often that every single living organism of the planet has an important role to play in the proper function of systems responsible for life, and the health of all living things.

  16. Don Lewis April 30, 2015 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    Great message…beautiful and informative…does not hurt that the stars of the video are some of the most majestic creatures on earth. Now if we could only prove that they new what they were doing!

  17. Carolyn E. Balls April 30, 2015 at 10:51 am - Reply


  18. Rodolfo Hinestorsa April 30, 2015 at 10:50 am - Reply

    Excelent Video Thanks

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