A Whale Of A Deal
What’s the value of a manatee? Or a sea turtle, a dolphin, or a pteropod? Certainly, they carry intrinsic value, as does all life on our planet, and we also know they each play a role in critical ecosystem services, like maintaining a stable food web. But thanks to a new economic analysis, we can start to show — in monetary terms — the importance of great whales. A team of economists at the International Monetary Fund recently found an individual great whale to be worth $2 million and the global population to be worth more than $1 trillion.
While one could certainly argue we don’t need to put a monetary value on everything and should conserve species regardless of their value to humanity, I do think it’s important to use ecological and economic analyses like these to estimate the value of various organisms and parts of our ocean and planet. This can spur conservation efforts for individual species and have impacts on our global activities. For example, while some may want to conserve the whale for its own intrinsic value, others may not see its worth until its carbon capture is compared to that of trees — while a tree absorbs up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, a whale averages 33 tonnes in its lifetime. We can take these types of ecological and economic analyses a step further to help us describe the importance of ocean exploration, ocean observations, and scientific research to help everyone better understand the intricate relationship of all members and pieces of our global ecosystem. Hopefully, these types of analyses could then help spur to action decisionmakers and others to prevent further loss of valuable marine life and to invest in really understanding our ocean.
Now that we have quantified the value of a whale to humans in a capitalistic sense, I can’t help but wonder what a whale might say the value of a human is. Unfortunately, I imagine that such an estimate would not be very positive. But maybe, with the ongoing work of brilliant scientists, technologists, researchers, and economists today, we just might be able to change the whale’s opinion for future generations as we help realize dramatic improvements in the health and prosperity of all ocean life – an invaluable proposition.
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