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How Much of the Ocean Is Whale Pee?

Where there's a question, there's a scientist at work.


Everyone knows that you're not supposed to pee in the pool. But the ocean? Admit it — at least once you've been at the beach and haven't felt like getting out of the water and tracking down a bathroom.

Don't worry; you're in good company. After all, the ocean plays many roles. To you, it's a summer destination; but to marine species everywhere, it is not just a home, but a toilet.

Which naturally leads to the question: Just how much of the ocean is animal pee, anyway? And of course, where there's a question, there's a scientist at work.

"It's not easy to measure how much a whale excretes in a day," admits Joe Rogan, a conservation biologist. Though whales do sometimes surface on their backs to produce a prodigious golden fountain of urine into the air, "we still haven't figured out how to collect that," Rogan regretfully sighs.

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However, there are some rough numbers to work with, as a 2003 study in the Canadian Journal of Zoology made some estimates for different whale species. Just for fun, we did some calculations.

The enormous, 160,000-pound fin whale makes about 257 gallons of urine per day, according to the study.

And there are about 30,000 fin whales in the ocean. So together, all the fin whales in the world would fill just around 11.5 Olympic-size swimming pools worth of pee, every day. (257 x 30,000 / 660,430 = 11.67)

That's right, 11.5 of these. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sounds like a lot, right? It is, of course, but in terms of the entire ocean? Not even a drop in the bucket. The ocean contains 321,003,271 cubic miles of water — that's almost 500 trillion Olympic pools. So if 30,000 fin whales had been peeing into the ocean since the Big Bang, their pee would still only account for 10 percent of the ocean's water.

And that assumes that it just sits there. In reality, whale excretions are a coveted resource. We may call it waste, but to tiny ocean life like phytoplankton and algae, whale pee (and poop) is pure nutritional gold.

Roman even calls whales "ecosystem engineers" for the way they redistribute resources, turning food they find at the ocean's depths into charmingly named fecal clouds that feed animals on the surface.

So, back at the beach, next time you're in the waves and feel the need to go, let 'er rip. If anyone tries to call you out, just blame it on the whales.

 

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