Do Whales Fart?

Priceless poo: the global cooling effect of whales
Sperm whale relieving itself Image © Wade & Robyn Hughes

As a child, you may have come across the book “Everyone Poops.” Well, what about farts? In this article, we will explore the lovely world of whale flatulence and try to answer, “Do Whales Fart?”

“Better out than in…”

Passing gas or farting can be seen in most mammals, even marine ones! It allows animals to release air that has been trapped inside their stomach. Farting relieves digestive problems, stomach cramps, or various other complications caused by digestive gas building up.

There are two main reasons why an animal might have to pass gas or farts: excessive amounts of air or digestion!

An excessive amount of air can enter an animal. This occurs typically while breathing or when consuming food or drinking water. Unlike humans, whales and dolphins swallow their food whole, so it is a combination. Though they consume seawater while they eat, they can filter out the salt very effectively! You can read more about it in “Do Whales Drink?

Scientists have described a whale fart as bubbles coming out underneath its body through “the smellier blowhole.” The smell from the scientists has been said to be an “unholy mingling of fart and fishiness.”

“Toot-al” Break Down

The second reason comes from food that is broken down by enzymes. Stomach acids and bacteria in the stomach create toxic gasses that need to be removed from the body to prevent them from harming the animal’s digestive system, such as nitrogen, oxygen, methane, sulfur, etc. Nicholas Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti researched many mammals/animals and their farts in the book “Does it Fart? The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence”. One mammal that did not emit any flatulence was the sloth. Mr. Caruso states that a more extended digestive system and a slower digestion process yield more time for gases to form pockets. Sloth digestion is so slow that gas buildup could be fatal! So evolutionarily, these animals have developed a mechanism to reabsorb these gases.

For whales, especially baleen ones that eat a lot of krill, consume copious amounts of chitin (what krill shells are made of). The digestion of chitin has the potential to create some of these digestive gases that need to escape!

Let’s talk about Sphincters

Another point that is made when talking about farts is about sphincter tightness. Some animals have a strong anal sphincter. This allows them to accumulate the fecal material to dispose of it in certain places. Hence, they don’t “foul the nest.” Whale sphincters, on the other hand, are relatively loose. Scientists suggest that digestive gases may not have time to build up as they can be eliminated as quickly as they are produced. That is supported by seeing large bubbles when a whale defecates.

To summarize, “Do whales fart” in one simple answer… scientists are not 100% on the same page about the exact definition of a whale fart.
What do you think? Comment below if you think whales fart!

Thanks for Reading!!

To read more about animal farts, check out the links below:

 | Website

Naomi Mathew is a PhD student at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She works on bioacoustics in marine mammals from the Gulf of Mexico. She is the co-founder of Whale Scientists. You can read more about her here

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