- Researchers discovered dozens of communities that are supported by sunken whale carcasses as they are seen living around it.
- After some time of seeing this occurance appear in different areas in the world, researchers now see that this is no coincidence at all.
- Most common found organism living in the whale remains were the same type of mussel but another new type of animal was found on the carcass were Limpets (snail-like mollusks)
- This type of species was very interesting as the clams and mussels found were known to harbor chemosynthetic bacteria (drawing energy from inorganic chemicals and sometimes form the basis of entire ecosystems.
- Believed that the whale skeletons seem to be the "stepping stones" for deep sea-animals to spread from one chemosynthetic community to another.
- After running a few whale experiments of their own, they noticed that the whale falls go through 3 overlapping ecological stages
- 1st: Mobile Scavenger Stage- Hordes of Hagfish, Sleeper Sharks and other scavengers begin to pick away the soft tissue of the carcass possibly taking awhile based on the size.
- 2nd: Enrichment Opportunist Stage- Lasts up to two years, high density but low diversity communities of animals colonize the sediments surrounding the whale carcass and the now exposed bones. Feeding off of the left overs by the scavengers and is mostly dominated by polychaetes (bristle worms) and crustaceans.
- 3rd: Sulfophilic Stage- The longest phase of them all, specialized bacteria anaerobically break down lipids contained in the bones. Unlike aeroic bacteria, these microorganisms use dissolved sulfate (SO4) for source of oxygen and release hydrogen sulfide (H2S) as waste.
- Whale bones are rich in lipids with a 40-ton carcass may contain 2,000 to 3,000 kg and the decomposition process is very slow as the final stage can last up to 50 years or even a CENTURY.
- Osedax (the Zombie Worm) was found during the whale experiments being very interesting animals and genetic evidence shows that they are around 40 million years old which is about the same age as vesicomyid clams and whales.
- It's tunneling activity destroys the exposed whale bones and speeds up the sulfophilic stage for the skeleton and affects its own habitat. Time reduction poses a challenge to the stepping stone hypothesis as it makes it more difficult for animals to get from one chemosynthetic site to another.
- This discovery opened new ideas that this was already happening before the first whale ever existed as some of the organisms found were similarly found on some reptile remains showing that this could've possibly happened in Mesozoic oceans.
Scientist soon discover a whale's remains found at the bottom of the ocean where they see a community surrounding the carcass. Finding it as a surprise, they soon learn that this happens more commonly than they are actually aware of as multiple reports around the world have shown to have similar findings with the same type of species found living on it. Sparking interest into researchers, they soon start to conduct experiments revolving around the whale falls to see the habitat development. They see that the whale's remains act as some type of stepping stone for organisms that need to spread from one chemosynthetic community to another for a type of clams and mussels who draw energy from inorganic chemicals. They were able to see that there is indeed 3 overlapping ecological stages that it goes through with: Mobile Scavenger, Enrichment Opportunist and Sulfophilic Stage. This is a breakthrough as it can lead to more of a discovery into the past showing that this process could have occurred even before the first whale.
After reading about the whale falls, I had not realized what a 40 ton carcass was capable of at the bottom of the ocean. The whale even after death was able to help nurture and feed a new community that live in it's own remains. Showing that this indeed is not just a coincidence but rather normal and could have been happening for thousands of years even before the first whale! It was only not too long ago that we have discovered the pattern with findings of mussels and mollusk located in the whale's blubber and now researchers are theorizing when exactly this could have started (possibly so far back that it had occurred in the Mesozoic time period as well). It implies that it may have happened to aquatic reptiles and not just whales alone. The three stages helping form this is amazing as it shows a LOT OF TIME is used to get to where those habitats are formed. The one that had particularly stood out the most was the Osedax (Zombie Worm) which appeared to be the most intriguing as it lived off of the exposed whale bones and helps speed up the process (which can possibly be an issue). Strangely it does not have a mouth, anus and etc. but rather uses roots to survive. All of the species are female with the male dying inside and is only primarily used for its production of sperm. Knowing what I know now, I hope that more breakthroughs and conclusions are formed from this so I would be able to see how far back this had first occurred!