I’ve learned a new word: whalefall. It refers to the effect of reduced buoyancy upon deceased cetaceans, and came up today in an interesting and educational context.
Among the odder of the sea’s many odd creatures is a little worm called Osedax mucofloris. These animals live on the carcasses of whales that have fallen to the sea floor — but they don’t nibble at them, as they have no mouths or digestive tracts. Instead, they penetrate the dead whale’s bones with rootlike filaments, upon which live symbiotic bacteria that pass nutrients along to their host.
Once the worms have consumed the whale, which only takes a few weeks, they die, having spawned offspring that must themselves find a whale’s carcass, or die trying.
It is only the females of the species that reach macroscopic size; they are in turn inhabited by hundreds of tiny, larval males, who exist only to provide a reliable supply of sperm.
The worms are festooned with vividly colored, feathery gills, which has earned them the delightful appellation “bone-eating snot flower”.