Succession

There are four key succession stages of a whale fall ecosystem. These are: the mobile scavenger stage, the enrichment stage, the sulphophilic stage and the reef stage. All of which are characterised and defined by a specific selection of organisms which are present at the carcass (Smith and Baco, 2003).

Table 1. A summary of all the succession stages, their duration and key organisms. Information gathered from: Smith and Baco (2003) and Jumars and Gallagher (1982).
 StageDurationKey Organisms
1Mobile Scavenger Stage2-24 monthsHagfish, Rattails, Sleeper shark, Crustaceans
2Enrichment Opportunist StageUp to 18 monthsGastropods, Bivalves, Polychaetes
3Sulphophilic Stage Up to 20 yearsOsedax spp., Chemoautotrophic Bacteria, Mussels, Clams, Crustaceans
4Reef StageUnknownSuspension feeders- corals, sponges and anemones

The video below demonstrates the stages of decomposition of a whale fall. Initially you can see the mobile scavenger stage where there are numerous hagfish and sleeper sharks feeding on the soft tissue of the whale. 18 months later is the enrichment opportunist stage where the majority of the soft tissue has been eaten, only a few mobile scavengers remain, and other invertebrates are present. Produced by Dr. Craig Smith, University of Hawaii.

Leave a Reply