Thursday, March 12, 2009

Week of the Blue: Feeding at Sea

In the Kingdom of the Blue Whale, the researchers came across a dead blue whale while at sea. The tell-tale signs of death were all-around. The floating bloating body of the dead whale. The circling and squawking scavengers from the sky - in this case sea gulls. Finally, the feeding frenzy of blue sharks in the ocean. Death is never a pleasant sight or smell in any natural environment; however it is a part of the life cycle and the food cycle.

Dead animals provide a valuable bulk source of nutrition to the remaining animals in the food web. Meat is a very valuable source of protein, on which the sea gulls and sharks were partaking. And had the whale sank to the ocean floor, which normally happens, a frenzy of other animals would have had the opportunity to feast as well. Though the death and location of a whale is completely random, in fact there are thousands of organisms large, small, and microscopic who greatly depend on them.

However, the dead whale from the special washed up on shore. In fact, the special showed another blue whale that had washed up on shore after death. Though sea gulls and other land animals willing and capable of feasting on the whale, it won't be handled nearly as efficiently as it would have been had the carcass remained out at sea. When a dead whale washes to shore, usually people have a hard time dealing with the sight and especially smell of the decomposing animal. In urban areas this is a big problem. As a result, teams of people come to assist. Though it was sad to see the dead baby whale (which had been born to soon from the shock of its mom's death), scientists now know more about fetal and baby blue whales.
This is a great opportunity for researchers to collect samples or learn more about whale anatomy. For example the researcher interested in whale hearing behavior was able to collect an intact whale ear bone structure. Her research in whale ear anatomy may prove beneficial in helping us understand how whales make and receive sounds - from each other and the huge shipping vessels that cause whale death.


Miriam Goldstein said...

On isolated islands, dead whales that was up can feed the entire ecosystem - the insects and scavengers that eat the whale in turn get eaten by everything else, and their poop brings whale nutrients to the plants. And dead whales that sink create a unique deep-sea ecosystem called (of course) a whale fall. So this blue whale's life isn't exactly over yet.

DNLee said...

whale fall...that's the word I was looking for as I was writing this post.

Thanks for contributing and beefing up the marine parts for me.

I hope all of my readers check out Miriam's page (among others). It's a great way to learn more about marine ecology.

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