Whilst reading this blog I hope you were transported on a journey following the afterlife of a dead whale: from the sinking stage to the reef stage. Whale carcasses are the largest, most energy rich detritus particles in the deep sea. They turn a somewhat barren deep sea floor into intricate, diverse ecosystems which are teeming with life by recycling energy through decomposition stages of succession. The effects of whale fall ecosystems are thought to last for an extremely long time, however, because the research is relatively recent, scientists have not yet been able to observe a carcass for long enough to establish an estimation of the exact timescale.
It could be argued that whale falls are too few and far between to have any real positive impact on the biodiversity of the deep sea as there is only one per 300km2 (Smith et al., 1989). However, the stepping stone hypothesis suggests that whale falls may be a vital link between chemoautotrophic communities (Feldman et al., 1998). Also, 32 whale fall specialist species have been identified, some of which, have not been found in any other ecosystem, for example, Osedax spp. (Rouse et al., 2004). It is therefore important to preserve these ecosystems as it is not yet understood what secrets are still to be uncovered.
It could also be beneficial for deep sea diversity and human wellbeing for whales that wash up on beaches to be purposefully sunk and not blown up with dynamite as some people may suggest. Natural whale falls are difficult to locate so by actively sinking then it should be easier from a research perspective.
Whales don’t always end up on the sea floor to be feasted upon by a plethora of marine organisms. Sometimes they wash up on the coastline giving us a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with them: