Video: Amazing Footage of Urchins, Sea Stars, and 9-ft-long Carnivorous Worms in Antarctic Waters

Video: Amazing Footage of Urchins, Sea Stars, and 9-ft-long Carnivorous Worms in Antarctic Waters

Alisa Opar
Published: 09/10/2010

You might imagine the frigid waters off Antarctica to be barren. But as this BBC video shows, there’s a shocking amount of life in McMurdo Sound. Death, it seems, has spurred the bustle of life captured on film. Nine-foot-long carnivorous worms slither through an undulating carpet of red sea stars, all moving across the sea floor toward a sudden meal: a dead seal pup.
 
The seal’s death will sustain the creatures for an entire summer, with the scavengers slowly picking it clean until only a skeleton remains.
 
Interested in finding out more about these life-after-death interactions? In “Fall Guys” (Nov-Dec 2009), Amanda Leigh Mascarelli delves into “whale falls”—when whales die and sink thousands of feet to the ocean floor, their enormous carcasses give life to mysterious worlds inhabited by an assortment of bizarre creatures.
 
When a whale dies, the scavengers, including squat lobsters, sleeper sharks, and crabs, rip apart the flesh in a feeding frenzy that can last a decade—the “horror movie stage,” as marine biologist Adrian Glover, of London’s Natural History Museum, puts it. As bits of soft tissue rain down, bringing a pulse of nutrients, a motley entourage of opportunistic worms, mollusks, and crustaceans move in.
 
Once the whale is stripped bare, a dense community of anaerobic bacteria dines among the decaying bones. Finally, the carcass acts as a sort of reef, providing habitat for filter feeders and worms such as Osedax, which excavate the lipid-laden bones. Fish, octopuses, and crabs move in to munch on the degraded whalebones, consuming worms and mussels along the way.

 
Now that's life after death.

Continue reading "Fall Guys" here.