CNN Climate Warrior Travels To Antarctica To Study Whale Poop

About a year ago, CNN climate warrior Bill Weir traveled 6,600 miles to Ushuaia, Argentina, to lament the use of fossil fuels before setting off for Antarctica to tag along with a group of whale scientists. On Friday, Weir joined CNN News Central to promote the new documentary that came from that trip and reveal that those scientists were studying whale excrement.

Weir told the trio of co-hosts that whales “are the biggest allies we have, literally the biggest allies on the planet, and it’s so good we saved them from oblivion because when I was a little boy, they were on the brink of extinction. The comeback of the humpback is one of the great stories of conservation, and a couple of years ago, some economists at the International Monetary Fund said, “Let’s figure out the value of a whale. What Earth services it provides over its 60-year life, $2 million– $ 2 million in Earth services, all thanks to their poo.” 

The show then showed a clip from the upcoming documentary that will air on Sunday. In the clip, Weir is shown onboard a boat with the scientists collecting the samples. Weir is also shown with Dr. Ari Friedlaender explaining how whales are “the planet’s biggest fertilizer pumps.”

Back in studio, Weir explained, “There’s a little over a million whales now that are bouncing back of all species. These economists say we get 4 million on the planet. We could really draw down as much carbon as three, four Amazon rainforests.”

That’s all well and good, but did the fossil fuel-decrying Weir really have to travel all the way to the bottom of the world to report that?

On the matter of Weir’s travel, Kate Bolduan jokingly asked, “You work for the same company we do?” while Sara Sidner asked, “How do you get these?”

Not only did Weir travel to the bottom of the world for the documentary, he also admitted to traveling to the top of the world while also stopping over in Colombia:

I cashed in a lot of frequent flyer miles, I used some coupons, but then we went up to the coast of Colombia where there’s their breeding grounds and so just gorging and logging and they’re couch potatoes down south and then when they get in the tropics it is like spring break and they’re mating and jumping. We go all over the world. I confronted one of the last whale hunters in Iceland about his trade and so this is one of the best hours we’ve put together.

It’s good for Weir that he gets to take field trips to beautiful locations across the world for work, but what is not good is that if a normal person tried to take a vacation to the same location, Weir would lament all the fossil fuels being burned in the process. As G.K. Chesterton once observed, journalism can be done from bed, whale harpooning (or researching) cannot. Was Weir’s physical presence really necessary?

Here is a transcript for the February 2 show:

CNN News Central

2/2/2024

11:51 AM ET

KATE BOLDUAN: This Sunday, CNN will take you to the far corners — I know, corners, reaches, you decide what shape– of the Earth for a special report on the climate crisis. CNN’s Bill Weir embedded with a team of researchers tracking humpback whales to reveal how the crisis is impacting them and how they might actually help beat it. Bill is here. Tell me more! Us more. 

BILL WEIR: They are the biggest allies we have, literally the biggest allies on the planet and it’s so good we saved them from oblivion because when I was a little boy they were on the brink of extinction. The comeback of the humpback is one of the great stories of conservation and a couple of years ago some economists at the International Monetary Fund said let’s figure out the value of a whale. What Earth services it provides over its 60-year life, $2 million– $ 2 million in Earth services all thanks to their poo. 

SARA SIDNER: Of course. 

BILL WEIR: And then they hit the jackpot. 

Oh, we got poo. 

WEIR: Whale stool sample. 

ARI FRIEDLAENDER: Nice. 

FEMALE RESEARCHER: You got a good chunk or you want some more. 

FRIEDLAENDER: That should be plenty. 

MALE RESEARCHER 2: Look at that. 

MALE RESEARCHER 3: That’s the goal. 

WEIR: That’s the goal. 

MALE RESEARCHER 3: That is the goal. 

FEMALE RESEARCHER: There we have the poo. 

WEIR: New science finds that when it comes to Earth repair, whale poo has massive value. You see, when wailers wiped out 95 percent of the Baleen whales we lost the planet’s biggest fertilizer pumps. One pod can take important nutrients from deep water and spread them across miles of ocean surface water, feeding the phytoplankton which feeds the krill which feeds everything from penguins to seals to whales. 

They’re the gardeners of the ocean aren’t they. 

FRIEDLAENDER: Yeah, instead of thinking of a food chain going one end to the other and stopping, it is much more like a circle. So, they’re literally seeding the upper parts of the ocean with the opportunity for plant life to grow and that’s what feeds the whale food. So, you’re right, in a sense they’re basically farmers. They’re recycling nutrients. There’s more food available to them the more they’re around. 

WEIR: Whale laxatives, John Berman just suggested. 

JOHN BERMAN: Well, the answer to all of our issues. 

WEIR: It is.

SIDNER: Called out. Called out.

WEIR: It is, but let them do their thing and let them come back. There’s a little over a million whales now that are bouncing back of all species. These economists say we get 4 million on the planet. We could really draw down as much carbon as three, four Amazon rainforests, and new artificial intelligence is helping us understand their communications. A team in Alaska had a 20-minute conversation with a humpback whale, playing back and forth, different cadences. We are just beginning to understand our biggest planetary roommates and literally the biggest allies we have.

SIDNER: It’s mind blowing. 

BERMAN: Can I just ask you, because those pictures were beautiful. Where were you? 

WEIR: We were in the Antarctic Peninsula. We sailed out of the tip of Argentina and went all the way down. 

BOLDUAN: You work for the same company we do? 

SIDNER: How do you get these? 

WEIR: I cashed in a lot of frequent flyer miles, I used some coupons, but then we went up to the coast of Colombia where there’s their breeding grounds and so just gorging and logging and they’re couch potatoes down south and then when they get in the tropics it is like spring break and they’re mating and jumping. We go all over the world. I confronted one of the last whale hunters in Iceland about his trade and so this is one of the best hours we’ve put together. 

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