Dead Whale Provides Feast for Deep Sea Creatures

Image: Ocean Exploration Trust and NOAA ONMS

During the final dive of this year’s Nautilus expedition season, the team discovered a whale fall while exploring Davidson Seamount off central California’s coast with researchers from Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

A “whale fall” is the common term used to describe the carcass of a cetacean that has fallen onto the ocean floor at a depth greater than 1,000 m (3,300 ft), in the bathyal or abyssal zones.

Whale falls can create complex localized ecosystems that supply sustenance to deep-sea organisms, sometimes for decades.

Image: Ocean Exploration Trust and NOAA ONMS


The skeletal remains of this whale are estimated to be 4-5 meters long. The team is working to identify the species, but it is thought to be a rorqual baleen whale as indicated by baleen remaining along the whale’s jawbones, and the shape of its skull.

Image: Ocean Exploration Trust and NOAA ONMS

While evidence of whale falls have been observed to remain on the seafloor for several years, this appears to be a relatively recent fall with baleen, blubber, and some internal organs remaining. The site also exhibits an interesting mid-stage of ecological succession, as both large scavengers like eel pouts are still stripping the skeleton of blubber, and bone-eating Osedax worms are starting to consume lipids (fats) from the bones. Other organisms seen on site include crabs, grenadier, polychaetes, and deep-sea octopus.

Image: Ocean Exploration Trust and NOAA ONMS

Watch the video:

This amazing sighting was filmed at southeast apron of Davidson Seamount, in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.