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