Whale and Krill Ecology in the Ocean

Whale and Krill Ecology in the Ocean
Antarctic Humpback Whale Feeding on Krill and a Closeup of the Tiny Creature

Now that people are harvesting krill from the ocean for human consumption, ecologists are concerned that we are competing with the whales that eat massive amounts of krill. For example, a blue whale will consume 35,000 pounds of krill in a day, and that would feed a lot of humans. This development requires a better understanding of whale and krill ecology and its effect on other ocean creatures.

Recent studies by Stanford University ecologists have shown that the oceans’ ecosystems are far more complex than we previously understood. For example, the whale consumption of krill is a significant part of the open ocean ecology. Krill contain large amounts of iron. When whales eat the krill, they defecate the iron back into the ocean, releasing it for other life forms.

Phytoplankton must have iron to survive, and they would die without the whales eating the krill. In turn, phytoplankton are critical to many other living things in the ocean, including the krill. For that reason, researchers concluded that more krill existed in the Antarctic Ocean before whaling killed 1.5 million baleen whales between 1910 and 1970. Whales are not just massive food consumers but also a significant factor in preserving life in the sea.

Feeding the human population requires an understanding that every creature has a role in the creation. As we understand whale and krill ecology, we see the delicate balance in the natural world. That evidence of God’s design work reminds us of the importance of biblically-based stewardship of the creation. That biblical perspective is vital to good science and applying science to solve human problems. It’s another example of the compatibility of science and faith. They are friends, not enemies, and must work together to benefit us all.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Wildlife magazine, June-July 2022, page 10 and Stanford.edu

Oxygen Generators and More

Oxygen Generators and More

They are microscopic plants. You may never see them individually, but they exist by the millions on or near the surface of oceans, lakes, and rivers, even in polar regions. Scientists call them phytoplankton which comes from two Greek words that mean “plant drifter.” We call them oxygen generators.

You can see masses of green phytoplankton on the water surface because of the green chlorophyll they contain. Chlorophyll enables them to use sunlight and nutrients from the water to produce the nourishment they need to live. In the process of photosynthesis, they are oxygen generators. Of course, humans and all animals must have the oxygen to breathe, and phytoplankton play an essential role in our climate by controlling the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In the ocean, tiny animals called krill eat phytoplankton. In turn, the krill provide the diet for many fish and even for huge baleen whales. Those whales stir up the ocean, bringing to the surface minerals which the phytoplankton need. As whales eat and grow, they take in large amounts of carbon. When they die, their bodies containing the carbon sink to the bottom of the ocean. This well-engineered system helps prevent the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Phytoplankton are incredibly diverse, with thousands of different species. The microscopic photo shows members of one class of phytoplankton known as diatoms. The carcasses of phytoplankton, algae, and other marine plants deposited on the sea beds long ago became the petroleum we use today.

Diatoms produce silicon shells, and when they die, those shells form deep deposits on the ocean floor. People mine those microscopic shells and use them for what we call diatomite or diatomaceous earth used in industry for fine polishing and for filtering liquids. In addition, gardeners sprinkle diatomaceous earth around their plants to protect them from insect pests. Scientists are also exploring uses for those microscopic shells in nanotechnology.

So, in addition to being oxygen generators, these tiny plants produce energy sources for humans and food for creatures of the ocean and freshwater lakes. Without them, our climate would be much different, and life would be difficult, if not impossible. Chance evolution doesn’t seem to be an adequate explanation for diverse phytoplankton. We see them as another example of design by the Master Designer of life.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Value of a Whale

Value of a Whale - Humpback Breaching

Many years ago, an atheist challenged my statement that everything in the creation had a designed purpose and filled a need. My atheist friend insisted that the whale is one example of a poorly designed creature with no purpose. He said that they eat massive amounts of the ocean’s food that could be eaten by other, more useful creatures. He also challenged that they contribute nothing to the ecology of the oceans. At the time, I didn’t have a good answer to why whales are useful. Whale oil seemed to me to be a weak answer. Since then, I have learned the value of a whale.

One of the things I love about science is that it continues to look for understandings of the world in which we live. New studies of whales have revealed some facts that show the whale is incredibly useful. The current winter edition of Defenders of Wildlife magazine reports data on the value of a whale.

Whales live a long time, and they accumulate carbon in their bodies. When the whale dies, it takes that carbon to the ocean bottom, removing it from the atmosphere. New research shows that each whale takes 33 tons (30 metric tons) of carbon out of the atmosphere. By comparison, a tree absorbs 48 pounds (22 kg) of carbon dioxide a year. In 60 years, which is the lifespan of most whales, a tree would remove one ton of carbon from the air. Whales play a role in removing the greenhouse gas that people are concerned about today.

In a whale’s lifetime, it will bring minerals to the ocean surface to stimulate phytoplankton growth. This plankton contributes more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs 37 billion tons (33.5 metric tons) of carbon dioxide a year. Phytoplankton also sustains many fish species, and today, fishing is a 150 billion dollar industry.

So what is the value of a whale? Defenders of Wildlife maintains that each whale is worth more than two million dollars. God has a purpose for everything He created, but sometimes it takes us a long time to understand how His creatures help us.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Algae Solutions to Human Problems

Algae Solutions to Human ProblemsWhen you hear the word algae, negative thoughts may come to your mind. You may have problems with algae growths in your pond or birdbath. You have heard about toxic algal blooms that have hit seafood industries on the Pacific Coast. Many of us have viewed the red tide in Florida first hand. There are lawsuits in progress against companies that allowed chemical runoffs to trigger the destructive growth of algae in lakes and the ocean causing economic hardship for fishing trades and seafood producers. Unlike human-caused algae problems, there is a promise of algae solutions to human problems.

Consider the following facts:

Algae is probably our best tool for reducing greenhouse gases. Algae take carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen. More than half of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere comes from converting carbon dioxide to oxygen and algae is the primary agent for doing that. There is good evidence that excessive algae growth in the past caused global cooling.

Phytoplankton algae grow world-wide and make up the base of aquatic food-chains, eventually leading to most of the seafood we eat.

Giant kelp, which are algae, provide food and protected ecosystems for ocean creatures.

Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, such as spirulina contain proteins, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. People in many countries have been harvesting spirulina for nutrition since the 1940s. Japanese cooks use algae in soups and sushi wrappers. The additives agar and carrageenan from algae are used in ice cream and jellies.

Symbiotic relationships exist between algae and coral, helping to prevent storm damage to coral reefs that house sea life and protect shoreline structures. Algae solutions to human problems are many.

Research continues into how we can use algae to produce fuel. New foods made of algae are being developed. Most recently sea grapes, which are algae, have been used as green caviar because their texture and appearance looks like caviar and they are very nutritious.

God has provided for us in so many ways that it has taken our entire human history to discover them. For many years people did not eat tomatoes because they were considered to be poisonous. That seems silly to us today when whole industries are built around the tomato. In the future, perhaps we can say the same of algae. These rootless, leafless plants have incredible potential to provide algae solutions to human problems both here on Earth and as we travel into outer space.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Science Digest, July 2019