Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Telegraph Fights Global IQ with Reason-Negative Whale Faeces

I mean, is someone actually PAID to write this? The article might actually refer to some sensible research, but the author of this article is so clueless or hurried that they cannot see that they have left out important facts that make the selected assertions illogical.

Bear with me as I grind through the article and at the end see how the article comes across like horse (or Whale) manure, yet the research may, in fact, not be.

Sperm whales fight global warming with carbon-neutral faeces

Southern Ocean sperm whales have emerged as an unexpected ally in the fight against global warming, removing the equivalent carbon emissions from 40,000 cars each year thanks to their faeces, a study has found.

Oh, has it. Well, lets see, shall we, children?...

The cetaceans have been previously fingered as climate culprits because they breathe out carbon dioxide (CO2), the most common greenhouse gas.
But this is only a part of the picture, according to the paper, published in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"climate culprits"? Whales? Has it occurred to anyone that all animals breathe out CO2? Even AGW/CACC supporters? (Well, they are worse because of the vast quantities of CH4, but I digress...). The fact that people are so twisted to assert that any life form is a "climate culprit" just because they breathe really should tell you the mentality of some people.
Australian biologists estimated that the estimated 12,000 sperm whales in the Southern Ocean each defecate around 50 tonnes of iron into the sea every year after digesting the fish and squid they hunt.
That is iron from the fish and squid that swim around them, no? Yes? Ok.
The iron is then eaten by phytoplankton - marine plants that live near the ocean surface and suck up CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.
Yum. Ok, keep going...
As a result of the fertilisation, the whales remove 400,000 tonnes of carbon each year, twice as much as the 200,000 tonnes of CO2 that they contribute through respiration.
That is like saying the paper industry "removes" x tonnes of CO2. Still, I am sure this is going to make sense later.
The whales' faeces are so effective because they are emitted in liquid form and close to the surface, before the mammals dive, said the paper.
Sperm Whales take a dump before going to work. I like them already.
Industrialised whaling not only gravely threatened Southern Ocean sperm whales, it also damaged a major carbon "sink," the scientific term for something that removes more greenhouse gases than it produces, it added.
Before industrial whaling, the population of this species was about 10 times larger, which meant around two million tonnes of CO2 were removed annually, said the paper.
DING! Presumption. Just because there were 10x as many Sperm Whales does not mean that 10x as many phytoplankton shall bloom [1]. Still, let us carry on, even if the idea of a "sink" has not yet been properly explored.
The scientists suspect that because sperm whales cluster in specific areas of the Southern Ocean there is a clear link between food availability and cetacean faeces.
How can you "suspect a clear link"? Well, that "CO2 of 40,000 cars" is now only suspected. Onward.
This could explain the "krill paradox," they believe. Researchers have previously found that when balleen whales are killed, the amount of krill in that sea area declines, which thus affects the entire food chain.
Which is all very well but Sperm Whales are not baleen whales, they are toothed, like dolphins and orca. Have they measured the iron in baleen whale poo? This is not mentioned, but it should be.
The study is lead-authored by Trish Lavery of the School of Biological Sciences at Flinders University in Adelaide.
If I were Trish, I'd be crying into my salad after seeing how all her work has been butchered by this woeful rendition.

The article is disjointed, non-sequitur and flimsy in the extreme. It tells us very little and what it does doesn't make much sense unless you are happy just to absorb baseless soundbites for later regurgitation. Near the surface. With plenty of iron.

What is being said here is that Sperm Whales eat fish and squid in the southern ocean, and out comes iron. What it seems to hint is that Sperm Whales are natural born alchemists or have a supernova in their guts, able to create an element, iron - Fe, the most stable element in the universe - from base things like fish and squid. It speaks as if the iron was not there before. Of course the iron was in the fish and squid. What it also does not mention is why Sperm Whales eating them is any different from other animals eating them or of the fish dying from natural causes and, most importantly, where did the iron in those fish and squid come from?

What is also overlooked is the fate of all that phytoplankton. What does it do, live forever? No, it gets either eaten by krill fish and squid or...drum roll...sinks to the bottom, also like some dead fish and squid.

The article here really should be mentioning the whole lifecycle. Phytoplankton take in CO2. Many are eaten. Animals that eat them then give off the CO2. No "sink". Some phytoplankton and some of the animals further up the food chain fall to the bottom of the ocean and this is the CO2 "sink". Phytoplankton in themselves are NOT a CO2 "sink" in themselves, for if they are eaten then the majority of CO2 they originally took in is almost certainly exhaled by those animals.

To say that phytoplankton take in 400,000 tonnes of CO2 and thus it is a 400,000 tonne CO2 "sink" is complete and utter codswallop, I am afraid.

What COULD be happening is due to the fact that Sperm Whales contribute to keeping iron in the upper waters, phytoplankton can breed in greater numbers than would otherwise occur and by some sinking to the bottom and the sinking of some of the animals that feed on them, some CO2 is "sunk".

Small flaw in this too. The iron is in the phytoplankton and resultant food chain, so as quickly as it is CO2 sinking, so Fe is sinking too. The only way this works is if Sperm Whales or the food it feeds on is IMPORTING iron to the Southern Oceans from elsewhere to keep the levels up.

Maybe this is in the paper by Trish Lavery. I hope it is.

What we do not need is articles like the one I have linked to. It not only provides incomplete "science" by garbling a research paper into a string of meaningless non-sequitur statements, it also risks conditioning people to accepting such incompleteness and non-sequiturs as a norm and a quite acceptable way of "communication". The Fabians must love it. A "result" for them.

To me it just grates. I want to know WHY, to UNDERSTAND, to not just accept blindly. To LEARN, rather than just be TAUGHT.

Is that too much to ask?

[1] I would also bet that if that nasty Mankind discharged iron into the Southern Oceans at 10x the rate of Sperm Whales, the environmentalists would be up in arms talking about a phytoplankton bloom that would destabilise the delicate ecosphere.


JohnM said...

1. Greens like whales and oppose whaling but...
2. Someone has previously suggested that whales contribute green house gases. This implies that whaling might be a "good" so...
3. It would be nice if someone could prove that whales are our allies in the fight to save the planet. Then...
4. Some research is published which allows the advocates to reaffirm that these "silent giants" whales are good. Hurrah drinks all round.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Rog, that is one of the greatest post titles of all time. I assumed it would be about anything but whale poo, but it was in fact about whale poo. Nothing more to add.