8 votes

A Whale’s Afterlife

2 comments

  1. [2]
    alyaza Link
    this is an interesting--and exceptionally long, it would seem--process:

    this is an interesting--and exceptionally long, it would seem--process:

    We knew, broadly, what had happened in the preceding three years. For denizens of the seafloor, a whale fall is like a Las Vegas buffet—an improbable bounty in the middle of the desert. Rosebud had delivered about a thousand years’ worth of food in one fell swoop. The first animals to pounce had been scavengers, such as sleeper sharks and slimy, snake-like hagfish. In the course of about six months, they had eaten most of the skin and muscle. Inevitably, the scavengers had scattered pieces of flesh around the whale carcass, and native microbes had multiplied quickly around those scraps. Their feeding frenzy, in turn, had depleted oxygen in the seafloor’s top layers, creating niches for microbes that could make methane or breathe sulfate.
    As Rosebud came into view, we saw colorful microbial carpets light up the screens—plush white, yellow, and orange mats, each a community of microbes precisely tuned to their chemical milieu. The whale’s towering rib cage had become a cathedral for worms, snails, and crabs, which grazed beneath its buttresses. A few hungry hagfish slithered through the skull’s eye sockets. When the cameras zoomed in, we saw that the bones were covered in red splotches. Rouse leapt from his chair and rushed to the monitors for a closer look: he suspected that the red tufts were colonies of remarkable bone-eating worms called Osedax, which had only just recently been described in a rigorous scientific study.

    How long can a whale fall endure before it disappears? Eventually, creatures like Osedax will destroy most of the skeleton. In a process called sedimentation, particles sinking through the water will bury anything that remains. While studying whale falls in Monterey Canyon, Rouse and his colleagues expected that the oasis around a typical carcass might persist for a couple of decades, but Rouse also came to believe that some could disappear over a much shorter or longer period of time. He thinks that a lower rate of sedimentation in Rosebud’s particular patch of seafloor, coupled with a seemingly sluggish excavation by Osedax, might mean that it could take half a century or more before all traces of Rosebud fade.

    2 votes
    1. DangerChips Link Parent
      That’s incredible to think about. A single whale’s carcass acting almost like its own biome for decades.

      That’s incredible to think about. A single whale’s carcass acting almost like its own biome for decades.

      2 votes