As The Lion King taught us all as children— or adults—the circle of life inevitably involves death. What the film didn’t emphasize so much, was how carcass-y things can get between the time a creature dies, and when its constituent components become new life. Luckily, this video showing how a whale carcass degraded over a year’s time does just that. Although Disney probably won’t be making a movie out of it.
The Exploration Vessel Nautilus (or E/V Nautilus), a not-for-profit scientific research vessel that’s been searching the ocean’s depths for crazy deep sea creatures for years, captured both videos of the baleen whale carcass. The vessel’s crew originally spotted the dead whale—referred to as a “whale fall” because of its location—in October 2019. At that time, the baleen was far fresher, and even still had some internal organs intact.
But while the dead baleen was overwhelmed with scavengers in 2019, this time around, there’s relatively little animal life. Indeed, a year on, it seems this whale fall is mostly disintegrated, shattered bones covered in a carpet of algae.
WHALEY BIG FIND! We're still documenting the baleen whale skeleton we discovered with @MBNMS at Davidson Seamount off central CA's coast. Scavenging fish and octopus strip blubber while bone-eating Osedax worms dissolve bones onsite.— E/V Nautilus (@EVNautilus) October 16, 2019
Watch #NautilusLIVE: https://t.co/Ajj54YYX2Q pic.twitter.com/d8DAAepgiB
“Whereas the whale fall was once covered in a thriving abundance of life in October 2019, [it’s] nearly devoid of organisms just a year later,” the video’s description notes. The description adds the whale fall has “undergone dramatic density changes” since the crew last visited it; a particularly noticeable change when looking at the former whale’s now frail rib bones.
Despite the near total absence of animal life, however, there were still a few handfuls of crabs crawling across the whale fall during this most recent visit. Not only that, but there was even a ghastly little fish checking things out. And it’s probably only a matter of time before the fish attracts a predator—and the circle of life starts anew.
Feature image: EVNautilus