Welcome to a new recurring segment on my blog called: Ocean Vocab. I thought it would be fun to choose interesting words and phrases in relationship to the ocean, and explore them a bit.
For our first Ocean Vocab, “Whale Fall”. What is a whale fall?
A whale fall is kind of like Thanksgiving dinner for the inhabitants in the deep sea (between 2ooo feet and 6600 feet). A lot of nutrients in the ocean come from shallower waters, and are passed through to organisms deeper down by death, and currents. For instance, when a whale dies, its carcass will drift to the bottom of the sea, where those inhabitants will waste no time in making the most of situation.
Some of these organisms go long periods of time without eating, and must take advantage of a feast (or famine) scenario. When a whale falls, it creates a localized ecosystem
The animals to arrive first are free swimming animals: sleeper sharks and hag fish. They can move freely, so they book it over to get the meat, and will eat until the meat is all gone. For some whales (a blue whale for instance) this can take up to FIVE years.
Once the meat is gone, the free swimmers go too, and thus come the worms and the mollusks and bacteria mats, to clean up the bones. This stage ends when all the oxygen in the area is used up, or up to 4 more years.
Now the only thing left is the bare, squeaky clean bones. But even this is yummy, yummy nourishment for someone. Anaerobic bacteria eat up the fat inside the bones, which helps convert sulphate to sulphide (which is food for EVEN MORE ANIMALS). OMG. This stage can last 80 years, or even up to 100 years! Can you imagine, from the death of one whale, a whole ecosystem develops and is sustained for longer than the average life of a human.
Waste not, want not.
PS it’s thought that many species went extinct when commercial whaling began hauling up more catch and whale falls were less and less common.