Whale Falls Create Ecosystems On The Ocean Floor : Short Wave What happens after a whale dies? Their carcasses, known as "whale falls," provide a sudden, concentrated food source for organisms in the deep sea. Biologist Diva Amon is our guide through whale-fall ecosystems and the unique species that exist on these fallen whales. (Encore Episode.)
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After A Whale Dies, What Happens?

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After A Whale Dies, What Happens?

After A Whale Dies, What Happens?

After A Whale Dies, What Happens?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/927955797/929684133" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Fallen whale carcasses, abundant in the deep sea, are now studied as ecosystems unto themselves. Craig Smith and Mike deGruy/Craig Smith and Mike deGruy hide caption

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Craig Smith and Mike deGruy/Craig Smith and Mike deGruy

Fallen whale carcasses, abundant in the deep sea, are now studied as ecosystems unto themselves.

Craig Smith and Mike deGruy/Craig Smith and Mike deGruy

The deep sea is a cold region of immense pressure and intense darkness.

Down there, most creatures subsist on dead and decaying material that falls from the surface, forming "marine snow" — dead plankton, dead animals shells, fecal matter, and other inorganic material.

But every so often, something larger reaches the sea floor. A dead whale.

Whale carcasses — known as "whale falls" — become an energy-rich habitat, drawing a wide variety of organisms from across the deep sea to feast. Whale falls become ecosystems unto themselves.

Diva Amon, a deep-sea biologist and Pew-Bertarelli Ocean Ambassador, as well as the Director and Founder of SpeSeas has studied them up close. Amon likens the arrival of a whale fall to a Thanksgiving buffet.

"Like your family coming from all over the country for these events, different species come from all over the deep sea to feast on this huge amount of carbon that has just arrived," she says.

For more information on whale falls, check out the digital story that accompanied our original episode.

You can find Maddie and Emily on Twitter. Maddie's @maddie_sofia and Emily @emilykwong1234. E-mail the show at shortwave@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Brit Hanson and Rebecca Ramirez, fact-checked by Ariela Zebede and edited by Viet Le.