Imagine the lifeless form of a massive baleen whale, falling silently through the lightless environment of the deep ocean. Thousands of pounds of blubber and bone eventually crash into the sea floor at depths of over 10,000 feet, deeper than some Sierra Nevada mountains are tall.
Food here is scarce, and a whale fall, as it’s known to scientists, can provide hundreds of animals with nutrients. Finding a whale carcass is the nutritional equivalent of winning the lottery for a deep-sea dweller. Some animals, like the populations of worms that slowly digest the whale’s bones, can subsist for decades on a single carcass.
They’re rare for scientists to find, but on Oct. 16, the crew of the Nautilus discovered a whale fall on the final dive of its 2019 expedition. They were exploring the Davidson Seamount, located within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, using a remote-operated vehicle—thankfully equipped with a camera to capture the rare scene. Among the many animals feasting on the fallen giant’s remains are eelpouts, deep-sea octopuses, crabs and grenadiers.