Monday, November 07, 2005

Beached Whale Recycling

What should you do if you find a dead whale on the beach? You should not leave it to rot on (or near) the shore. Instead, call the professionals! They'll tow it away, weight it down with balasts and let it sink to the ocean floor.

Every whale carcass becomes a substrate for a rich ecosystem composed of hundreds of species of invertebrates and fish, some of which are found ONLY on dead whales on the bottom of the ocean.

From Heather comes this article about whale carcasses:
According to Smith, a single whale fall can apparently support a community of up to 200 species for as long as 50 to 100 years. Some are scavengers: hagfish, crustaceans, sharks which devour much of the whale's flesh and tissue over the course of a few months. Others use the substrate of the skeleton for suspension feeding. Still others - worms, clams, mussels, among others - take advantage of the sulfide-rich environment created by the steady bacterial decomposition of lipids in the whale s bones.

Remarkably, some of this latter group appear to have evolved specifically to take advantage of whale carcasses: among them, an entirely new genus of worm, Osedax, which has no mouth and no stomach, but uses a chemical delivered through a root system to dissolve and burrow into the bone. Symbiotic bacteria in its tissues then digest the marrow's oils and fats.
Apparently, dead whales are very important components of the oceanic ecosystems. One wonders how much the reduction in whale numbers has already affected the total oceanic biodiveristy.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:43 AM | permalink | (2 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink