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Scientists are pouring tons of red dye into the ocean — here's why

Scientists can follow the dye in melted water on its journey.

Red dye poured into Greenland’s rivers to save whales

Photo Credit: @npr / Instagram

Ice from the previously frozen island of Greenland is melting, pouring freshwater into the oceans and affecting whales. 

Scientists are now pouring red dye into the new melting ice rivers to see how they can help them, as shown in a popular Instagram Reel by the news outlet NPR, narrated by Ryan Kellman (@rjckseen), producer and visual reporter for NPR's science desk. 

What is happening?

As human industrial activities overheat the planet, glaciers are melting, and Greenland is now losing about 270 billion tons of ice annually.

This ice is filling the Atlantic Ocean, which is usually very salty, with fresh water, and scientists believe this extra water may be affecting ocean currents and some of the critters which inhabit them.

As our oceans are heating up, it's killing the plankton that whales off the coast of Maine rely on for food, as Kellman reported. This causes the whales to migrate farther in search of food, where they encounter more dangers along the way, such as fishing nets and ships. 

According to the Reel, between 2017 and 2019, 21 whales died in Canadian waters while searching for their displaced food source. 

The Canadian government has since established safeguards to protect whales in that area, Kellman said. However, as the oceans continue to warm, whales will likely continue to move farther into areas where commercial fishing is prevalent. 

Why is protecting whales important?

Aside from being an essential part of the ecosystem, it can be sad to see whales washed up, lifeless, on our shores, especially when we find out it's our fault. But whales also play an important role in helping our planet.  

After feeding in the ocean's depths, whales go to the surface to breathe and poop. Their feces is rich in iron, providing an ideal environment for phytoplankton growth

Despite their tiny size, phytoplankton significantly impact the Earth's atmosphere by capturing around 40% of all planet-warming gases, surpassing even the Amazon rainforest's ability to absorb carbon. 

How pouring red dye into meltwater rivers may help whales 

By pouring red dye into the new rivers caused by the melting ice in Greenland, scientists can follow the melted water on its journey and better understand how it is causing ocean currents to shift and how this subsequently affects the whales' feeding and migration habits.

Scientists hope this will enable them to predict where the whales will head next, giving governments the heads up so they can provide them with the protections they need. 

In 2019, the International Monetary Fund published a report on the benefits of saving whales.

"Since the role of whales is irreplaceable in mitigating and building resilience to climate change, their survival should be integrated into the objectives of the 190 countries that in 2015 signed the Paris Agreement for combating climate risk," the authors wrote, as reported by the BBC.

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