Poop, guano, feces, scat…whatever you call it, it happens.

While many people feel … a bit weird … talking about this topic, poop is indeed a fact of animal life.

So what exactly is poop? Poop, or feces, is defined as the solid, or semi-solid, remains of food that is not digested in the intestine. What cannot be broken down is then eliminated from the body. Whether it is an octopus, sea urchin, northern fur seal, or green sea turtle, we have lots of experience with poop here at Central Wharf.

garden eel pooping
Even garden eels go to the bathroom.
Now before you pooh-pooh the poo, you should know poop is important in aquatic environments!

Whale poop cycles nutrients to the ocean’s surface, fertilizing phytoplankton to support vibrant food webs. Parrotfish consume pieces of dead coral, crushing them into very small pieces. Those pieces are pooped out and make up a significant portion of the tropical white, sandy beaches we love to visit. Fruit-eating Amazonian fish help with seed dispersal: by eating fruits and traveling to another part of the river system, these fish help seeds find new homes and support healthy plant communities. And those are just three examples of the importance of poop—poop rocks.

a rockhopper penguin poops
It happens: Our volunteers and staff are in the Penguin Exhibit several times a day to clean the islands.
a volunteer at the New england aquarium cleans a penguin island
It's a dirty job, but our volunteers and staff work hard to keep our exhibits clean and healthy for our animals!
So what about here at the Aquarium?

Poop plays a big role in our day-to-day operations, with staff and volunteers taking poop management seriously. To ensure that our animals have the cleanest and healthiest homes possible, we do a LOT of work to remove all waste from exhibits. Different filter systems take out any ammonia waste products, but poop products can take a bit more elbow grease. Aquarium folks scrub penguin guano off the rocks with a veterinary disinfectant every day to keep the fishy smell at bay. Some exhibits, such as our harbor seals and Marine Mammal Center, have the bottoms vacuumed of any remains of a squid and fish lunch. Sifting through sand and siphoning up the buried debris works for other exhibits. While all this cleaning is a daily chore, it is an important part of life at the Aquarium to maintain healthy ecosystems.

While we work hard to clean up the mess … literally … we also study it! Scientists in the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life have been studying the poop of the endangered North Atlantic right whale for years. By measuring stress hormone levels in collected samples, researchers can gain useful information on how these whales respond to human impacts, such as entanglement in fishing gear or marine noise. We have additionally started studying hormone levels in our resident northern fur seals. By developing the procedures and baseline data on hormones like cortisol and progesterone, we can provide the best care possible for our animals and use these methods to study wild northern fur seals. Both sets of studies help scientists with efforts to conserve and protect these endangered populations.

katie at work in lab
Researchers at our Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life can study hormones in humble feces and learn a lot about ocean animals.
So now that you have gotten the inside scoop on poop, hopefully you will look at poop a bit differently.

While it is something we have to deal with every day, poop can help create healthy ecosystems, can be studied to determine animal health, and even lead to conservation efforts.