An ocean exploration team discovered a whale skeleton on the seafloor, and it’s live-streamed the bone-eating worms and other critters gnawing away at what’s left of the carcass.
“What an amazing find in preparation for Halloween,” one of the scientists on board the ship said during the broadcast.
Even in death, the whale has a lot to give to its fellow sea creatures. When it dies, its remains called a whale fall, provide food and important nutrients to the ecosystem on the seafloor. It’s what brought all the critters to the party we get to view today.
It was all caught on camera by the Nautilus vessel expedition team, which has been out at sea along the western US since May. They’re backed by the person who found the Titanic: deep-sea explorer Robert Ballard.
“Different stages in the decomposition of a whale carcass support a succession of marine biological communities,” the agency wrote on its website. “Scavengers consume the soft tissue in a matter of months. Organic fragments, or detritus, enrich the sediments nearby for over a year.”
The team got the largest audience they’ve ever had as they poked around the whale skeleton. Taking a request to zoom in, their cameras homed in on the backbone, covered in red bone-eating worms (Osedax) bobbing in the current.
At one point, the crew hung out with an octopus that attached itself to their equipment. “I think we do have a stow-away,” a crew member laughed. “Excuse us, octopus.”
“The octopus is photobombing us right now,” the crew quips. Then we get an anatomy lesson. One of the octopus’ eight limbs is a “hectocotylus,” we learn, which is used to “transfer sperm packets from the male to inside the cavity of the female.”
Although the researchers couldn’t definitely say how long the skeleton had been there, one listener identified as someone “in the science community” suggested that the whale probably died about four months ago, judging from how much tissue was left.
The Nautilus has traveled throughout the Pacific Ocean in 2019, the fifth year of the Ocean Exploration Trust’s effort to promote ocean research