Whale Funeral: Underwater Decomposition of Large Carcasses

by Emily Rose Nelson,
RJD Intern

Like any living thing, the lives of whales must come to an end at some point. Upon the death of these massive creatures some may strand and end up on shore, others may float and quickly be removed by other animals, and at least 50 percent will sink to the bottom of the seafloor. Whale carcasses reaching the depths of the ocean support high diversity by providing immense quantities of organic matter, a phenomenon known as a whale fall. The cold deep water acts as a refrigerator and slows decomposition significantly. Under these circumstances whales have the ability to live on after their death for over 50 years supporting entire communities in the deep sea.

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