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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Do whales fall?

A fallen whale - showing the various worms and creatures that feast on the carcass. 
Illustration by Michael Rothman.

Actually, they do. But as you can imagine, not like we would. (Yeah, how DO you fall in water right?) Whale fall is basically a whale carcass that has fallen to the ocean floor. Often whales that die in shallow waters are devoured by scavengers over several months but, have you ever wondered what happens to whales that die in deeper water? In these waters, beyond about 2,000 m, there are very few scavengers and the carcass provides sustenance for a very complex ecosystem over a period of decades even!

A World of Undersea Cutouts by Sharon Shattuck.
This little video uses paper cutouts to illustrate the different stages a whale carcass goes through after dropping to the bottom of the ocean. What does that have to do with falling whales? read on to find out!

Whale falls were first discovered in the 1980s with the advent of deep-sea robotic exploration. The first person to actually study them was Dr. Craig Smith from the University of Hawaii. His earliest attempts to study whale fall weren't successful but it makes for a great story. To learn more from the man himself listen to his RadioLab interview. N.B. you'll need to fast forward to 28m 52s to get to this particular interview. 

1 comment:

  1. hi! Are cetacean still harpooned in sri lanka? I'm thinking to come next winter, but i don't want to spend my money in a whaling nation.