Whale falls may provide important stepping stone habitat between deep sea vents seeps


  • Randy Showstack


For Craig Smith, professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manao, whale watching involves more than spying for breaching cetaceans from a tour boat deck. His whale watching includes dives in a submersible to sites of dead whales that have settled to the ocean bottom, and studies of the creatures that find the high concentrations of lipids and proteins in the bones of these sunken behemoths to be rich food sources.

According to Smith, who discovered the first sunken whale in 1987, these “whale falls” serve as important intermediate habitat to allow fauna to disperse between isolated hydrothermal vents and cold water seeps. The question of dispersal arose after the discovery of vents in 1977, and the identification of a few species at some vents or seeps separated by thousands of km.