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Whales Get A Second Life As Deep-Sea Buffets

Whales As Deep-Sea Buffets

What happens to a whale when it dies?

Their corpses, known as "whale falls," create an energy-rich environment, attracting a diverse range of deep-sea creatures to feast. Whale falls develop their ecosystems. Whale falls are evolutionary anomalies because they shelter organisms found on the bones of deceased whales. These creatures have evolved to survive in the deep sea's harsh habitat: a frigid climate with high pressure and complete darkness. Most of the organisms down there feed on dead & decaying material which falls from the surface, producing "marine snow" – dead phytoplankton, dead animal shells, faces, and other inorganic waste. However, now, and again, something bigger hits the seabed.


A team of marine researchers launched Hercules, a remote-controlled vehicle, to the ocean's deepest depths. It aimed to pay a visit to an octopus community. It happened near an underwater volcano off the coast of central California. Hercules' flashlight and camera discovered a parade of fascinating animals late one night after scanning a lengthy stretch of the barren seabed. A tiny bottom-feeder known as an eelpout was the first. It was partially submerged in the sand. Then there was a sea pig, a squishy creature that resembled a live pink balloon with tentacles. Scientists found a tiny whale corpse found deep under the sea at the location of an extinct volcano. This whale fall was found in 2019 off the coast of California by a remote-controlled research vehicle. A whale fall is indeed a gluttonous feast for animals that dwell in the deep, dark ocean.


Hercules discovered skeletal fragments of a whale that spanned five meters from snout to tail or what was remained of them. Baleen particles remained in its jaw. That's keratin, which is a tough substance. It's the same substance that makes up hair and fingernails. Baleen whales are toothless. Instead, they filter seawater with baleen screens and capture small food like krill.

A second life as food follows a whale's death by at least 100 species. The creatures do not all appear at the same time. The first to come is greedy and cunning. They're known as marine scavengers by marine scientists. The scavengers are the beginnings of a "feeding frenzy." Other monsters appear shortly after. Crabs scrape and eat their way down the bones.

Other scavengers with tougher outer shells come later. They sandpaper the bones down." All the scrapings create bone dust that settles like sawdust beneath a workbench on the seabed. Simultaneously, smaller animals must be cautious. Octopuses bob into or out of the bones, feeding on crustaceans, worms, and mollusks. They've arrived to devour the whale-eating creatures.


The scientific name for this species is Osedax, which means "bone-eating" in Latin. The worms secrete an acid that dissolves the bone's hard outer coating. Then, like developing plant roots, they extend tiny tendrils into the core of the bone. The rich proteins present within the bone, such as collagen, are devoured by these tendrils.

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