Just as on land, plant life provides the back bone (and major food source) of the ocean’s immense food webs. But at sea those plants aren’t grasses or shrubs for the most part, but phytoplankton–microscopic organisms whose photosynthesis creates the energy that makes our oceans run. In fact, phytoplankton are responsible for half of the oxygen that humans breath. Thanks, phytoplankton! But before sending out our thank you notes, there’s one more recipient whose address we’ll need. Whale poop gets a hearty thanks, too.
Because whales most often defecate near the ocean’s surface, and because their excrement tends to be, well, leviathan. This combination means that the whale waste provides an excellent source of nutrients for phytoplankton, which tend to stay near the surface in order to absorb sunlight. (Phytoplankton reverse the old insult Eat Sh*t and Die–they eat it to live!) Dr. Joe Roman of University of Vermont is trying to let people know that whales are big, so to speak, when it comes to the environment.