Whale fall—the remains of a 35-ton gray whale on the seafloor at a depth of 5,400 feet near Hawaii (Nautilus Live)

Whale fall—the remains of a 35-ton gray whale on the seafloor at a depth of 5,400 feet near Hawaii (Nautilus Live)

Scavengers, sharks, and hagfish have consumed the nutrient-rich blubber of the dead whale, leaving a clean skeleton behind. (Nautilus)

Scavengers, sharks, and hagfish have consumed the nutrient-rich blubber of the dead whale, leaving a clean skeleton behind. (Nautilus)

An underwater ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) is used to capture images of the whale six years after its death. (Nautilus Live)

An underwater ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) is used to capture images of the whale six years after its death. (Nautilus Live)

The whale fall becomes home to a huge variety of creatures and organisms. (Nautilus)

The whale fall becomes home to a huge variety of creatures and organisms. (Nautilus)

Scientists will continue to study the remains of this whale for years. (Nautilus)

Scientists will continue to study the remains of this whale for years. (Nautilus)

When a Whale Falls

Posted: September 3, 2019

Decades ago, whale oil from blubber fueled lamps. It lubricated machines. It was a key ingredient in paint. People call whale bone (baleen) the “plastic of the 1800s.” It was used to make dresses, buggy whips, toys, and typewriter springs. Whale teeth were carved into chess pieces and cut into piano keys. People found great uses for whale parts. But before people had a use for some whale parts, God designed a use for every part of those enormous creatures—as underwater neighborhoods.

Often, when a whale dies, it does not end up on shore. Its massive whale carcass sinks to the bottom of the sea. This is called “whale fall.” Sinking to the depths is just the beginning. When a whale’s life ends, its body has a new purpose. It becomes a nourishing ocean ecosystem—a community of living things. Whale fall “falls” into God’s perfect plan for order in creation.

It happens in three stages:

Mobile Scavenger. Scavengers smell the whale. They find it and feed on its flesh for up to two years. Clams, squat lobsters, shrimp, and sea cucumbers squirm all over the whale. There is plenty of food for everyone! One whale fall feeds around 400 sea animals and tens of thousands of organisms.

Enrichment Opportunist. Next, invertebrates move onto the scene. Critters like worms, crabs, and mollusks eat leftover blubber. These guys burrow into the sediment around the whale. It is chock-full of nutrients! This stage lasts two more years.

Sulfophilic. Bacteria cover the whale bones, breaking them down. This attracts even more organisms like mussels, worms, and snails. This stage has the most diverse group of hungry visitors. By now, the whale’s body has created one of the biggest communities you will find on the sea floor!

Praise the Lord from the Earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps. — Psalm 148:7