What The Heck Is A Whale Fall?


While surveying the sea floor of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of California, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discovered the eerie skeletal remains of a giant baleen whale.

When a whale dies, sometimes the carcass will sink to the bottom. Called a whale fall, the whale’s body then becomes a concentrated source of food for deep-water creatures. As it decomposes, the whale fall can support a variety of marine animals for decades. Scavengers, such as sleeper sharks and hagfish, will consume the soft tissues; invertebrates will colonize the bones; and bacteria will break down the lipids embedded in the bones, creating nutrients that feed mussels, clams, limpets and sea snails.

This video by the Ocean Exploration Trust shows the NOAA scientist’s discovery of a whale fall in October 2017:

The scientists discovered this particular whale fall while conducting a bottom survey around the waters off Southern California. The purpose of the expeditions is to create more accurate charts for mariners and resource managers. One recent submersible excursion led to the discovery of the century-old shipwreck of McCulloch, a historic Coast Guard cutter.