Discovery of a recent, natural whale fall on the continental slope off Anvers Island, western Antarctic Peninsula
Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers
Elsevier for Pergamon
Whale falls provide a substantial, nutrient-rich resource for species in areas of the ocean that may otherwise be largely devoid of food. We report the discovery of a natural whale fall at 1430 m depth in the cold waters of the continental slope off the western Antarctic Peninsula. This is the highest-latitude whale fall reported to date. The section of the carcass we observed—the tail fluke—was more complete than any previously reported natural whale fall from the deep sea and in the early stages of decomposition. We estimate the entire cetacean to measure 5–8 m in length. The flesh remained almost intact on the carcass but the skin was missing from the entire section except for the end of the fluke, clearly exposing blubber and soft tissue. The absence of skin indicates rapid and Homogeneous loss. The dominant macrofauna present were crustaceans, including most prominently the lithodid crab Paralomis birsteini, and zoarcid fish typical of the ‘mobile-scavenger’ successional stage. The density of mobile macrofauna was greatest on the carcass and declined to background levels within 100 m, indicating that they were attracted to the whale fall. This whale fall offers an important opportunity to examine the decomposition of a carcass under deep-sea conditions at polar latitudes.
We are grateful to the captain and crew of the RV Nathaniel B. Palmer, and to the US Antarctic Support Contractor, Lockheed Martin, for their assistance at sea. We thank J.T. Eastman and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript. Funding was provided by grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation: ANT-1141877 to R.B.A. and ANT-1141896 to J.B.M. This is contribution 122 from the Institute for Research on Global Climate Change at the Florida Institute of Technology.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Elsevier via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 90, pp. 76 - 80