Whale Poo: Miracle Food for Ocean Life?

Caption: The flukes of a Humpback whale August 5, 2010 off the shores of Provincetown, Massachusetts. Many vacationers spend their time watching Humpback, Minkke and Finback whales as they swim in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images) Date created: 05 Aug 2010
Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images
humpback, whale
(Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

(CBS) Maybe it's not love that makes the world go round, but something a bit more smelly.

Like whale poo.

A new study suggests that whale excrement plays a vital role in protecting the ecology of the world's oceans and their fisheries. The study, published in the online journal PLoSONE, showed that the nutrient-rich "slurry" of poo whales leave in their wakes helps feed the tiny floating plants (phytoplankton) - which, in turn, are eaten by fish and other animals.

In other words, whales are laying down an important stink link in the food chain that sustains human life.

"We think whales form a really important direct influence on the production of plants at the base of this food web," said one of the study's authors, Harvard biologist Dr. James McCarthy, according to MSNBC.

McCarthy's team analyzed 16 fecal samples from humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine during two whale-tagging cruises, MSNBC reported. They found a strong link between nitrogen in whale poo and the nitrogen that fuels the growth of phytoplankton.

Bottom line? The more poop whales produce, the more fish there might be for humans to eat.

Something to chew on next time you bite into a juicy tuna steak.