The prolific afterlife of whales
- A single dead whale can nourish a specialized ecosystem that lasts for decades.
- Some signs suggest that whale-fall ecosystems have exchanges with other deep-seafloor communities, such as hydrothermal vents.
- Species similar to those at whale falls may have depended on dead marine reptiles for hundreds of millions of years
- Whale decomposition occurs over the course of three stages
- 1st Stage: Mobile Scavenger Stage - Whale carcass lands on ocean floor, scavengers eat soft tissue/blubber
- 2nd Stage: Enrichment Opportunist Stage - Lasts up to 2 years, crustaceans/bristle worms finish off scraps of soft tissue from bones
- 3rd Stage: Sulfophilic Stage - Longest stage, specialized bacteria anaerobically break down lipids in the bones, use dissolved sulfate as Oxygen, release sulfide as waste
When whales die, they undergo a process of three stages. These three stages occur in order for the whale carcass to be recycled into the aquatic ecosystem. Over the course of the Mobile Scavenger, Enrichment Opportunist, and Sulfophilic stages, scavengers and decomposers eat away at the whale's remains. The afterlife of whales proves beneficial as the nutrients from the carcass are being consumed by the scavengers which in turn ensures their survival for predators to eat. The overall process can last up to about 50+ years, but proves essential to other forms of life in the ocean.
I find that the three stages that dead whales go through are very beneficial. The rotting corpse serves as an abundant source of food for the scavengers of the ecosystem, thus ensuring their health for the predators that eat scavengers. Each stage involves different organisms being nourished by the oceans' behemoths and how the remains are recycled back into the ecosystem. It takes a very, very long time for this process to finish, but what was most shocking was how many dead whales were being cycled back into the ecosystem. Whales This article confirms that whales are awesome.