Antarctic's First-Ever Whale Skeleton Found - www.ofINTEREST.net






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Antarctic's first-ever whale skeleton found

Megan Gannon, News Editor
Date: 18 March 2013 Time: 04:35 PM ET

For the first time ever, scientists say they have discovered a whale skeleton on the ocean floor near Antarctica. Resting nearly a mile below the surface, the boneyard is teeming with strange life, including at least nine new species of tiny of deep-sea creatures, according to a new study.

Though whales naturally sink to the ocean floor when they die, it's extremely rare for scientists to come across these final resting places, known as "whale falls." Discovering one typically requires a remote-controlled undersea vehicle and some luck.

"At the moment, the only way to find a whale fall is to navigate right over one with an underwater vehicle," study researcher Jon Copley, of the University of Southampton in England, said in a statement. The team's chance encounter with a 35-foot-long (10.7 meter) spread of bones that belonged to a southern Minke whale came as they were exploring an undersea crater near the South Sandwich Islands.

"We were just finishing a dive with the U.K.'s remotely operated vehicle, Isis, when we glimpsed a row of pale-coloured blocks in the distance, which turned out to be whale vertebrae on the seabed," Copley explained.

When whales die and sink to the ocean floor, their carcasses provide nutritional boosts and habitats for deep-sea life. Though their flesh decomposes within weeks, whale bones can last anywhere from 60 to 100 years, supporting bacteria and strange creatures like zombie worms, which are mouthless, eyeless animals that feed off the skeletons.

"The planet's largest animals are also a part of the ecology of the very deep ocean, providing a rich habitat of food and shelter for deep sea animals for many years after their death," said Diva Amon, another University of Southampton researcher. "Examining the remains of this southern Minke whale gives insight into how nutrients are recycled in the ocean, which may be a globally important process in our oceans."

The Antarctic whale fall, thought to have been on the seafloor for several decades, was surveyed using high-definition cameras, and samples were collected to be studied back on land. The team encountered several new species of sea snails and worms that were living off the bones. They found a new species of isopod crustacean, similar to woodlice, crawling over the skeleton, according to a statement from the U.K. National Oceanography Centre. The researchers also found an undescribed species of zombie worms (Osedax), which could help scientists study how the mysterious species has managed to become surprisingly diverse and widespread. (They've been found in whale falls in the eastern and western Pacific as well as the North Atlantic.)

"One of the great remaining mysteries of deep ocean biology is how these tiny invertebrates can spread between the isolated habitats these whale carcasses provide on the seafloor," Adrian Glover, a researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, said in a statement.

A recent study suggested that the sex strategy of zombie worms is the key to their success. Females of the species Osedax japonica quickly mature and then constantly produce eggs that harems of dwarf males fertilize, scientists found. What's more, zombie worm larvae can swim actively for at least 10 days before settling on bones on the ocean floor, according to the new research, detailed last month in the journal Naturwissenschaften.

The study of the whale fall was recently published online in the journal Deep-Sea Research II: Topical Studies in Oceanography.

Email Megan Gannon or follow her @meganigannon. Follow OurAmazingPlanet @OAPlanet, Facebook and Google+. Original article on LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.





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Unique whale skeleton discovered on the the Antarctic sea bed has NINE new species living on it

  • Discovery was made almost a mile below the surface in an undersea crater
  • Worldwide, only six natural whale skeletons have ever been found on the seafloor
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Marine biologists have found a whale skeleton on the ocean floor near Antarctica for the first time - and were stunned to find nine new species living on it.

The discovery was made almost a mile below the surface in an undersea crater by a team led by the University of Southampton.

It is the first to be found in the region - and only the sixth to be found anywhere


The whale vertebrae, found almost a mile below the surface in an undersea crater. At least nine new species of deep-sea organisms thrive on the bones.
"The planet’s largest animals are also a part of the ecology of the very deep ocean, providing a rich habitat of food and shelter for deep sea animals for many years after their death," says Diva Amon, lead author of the paper based at the University of Southampton and the Natural History Museum.

"Examining the remains of this southern minke whale gives insight into how nutrients are recycled in the ocean, which may be a globally important process in our oceans."

Worldwide, only six natural whale skeletons have ever been found on the seafloor.

Scientists have previously studied whale carcasses, known as a ‘whale fall’, by sinking bones and whole carcasses.

Despite large populations of whales in the Antarctic, whale falls have not been studied in this region until now.

"At the moment, the only way to find a whale fall is to navigate right over one with an underwater vehicle," says co-author Dr Jon Copley at University of Southampton.

Below are two of the nine new species found on the skeleton of a whale in Antarctica:
An Osedax bone-eating polychaete worm

An Ophryotrocha polychaete worm
Another view of the Ophryotrocha polychaete worm
The whale bone skull discovered on the seabed by a team including the University of Southampton, Natural History Museum, British Antarctic Survey, National Oceanography Centre and Oxford University.
Exploring an undersea crater near the South Sandwich Islands gave scientists just that chance encounter. 

"We were just finishing a dive with the UK's remotely operated vehicle, Isis, when we glimpsed a row of pale-coloured blocks in the distance, which turned out to be whale vertebrae on the seabed," continues Dr Copley. 

When a whale dies and sinks to the ocean floor, scavengers quickly strip its flesh. 

Over time, other organisms then colonise the skeleton and gradually use up its remaining nutrients. Bacteria break down the fats stored in whale bones, for example, and in turn provide food for other marine life. 

Other animals commonly known as zombie worms can also digest whale bone.

When  a whale dies, these are among the species that live on the remaining skeleton:
A Lysianassid amphipod crustacean
A Pyropelta limpet
“One of the great remaining mysteries of deep ocean biology is how these tiny invertebrates can spread between the isolated habitats these whale carcasses provide on the seafloor,” says co-author Dr Adrian Glover at the Natural History Museum. 


“Our discovery fills important gaps in this knowledge.”


The team surveyed the whale skeleton using high-definition cameras to examine the deep-sea animals living on the bones and collected samples to analyse ashore.

The animal pictured below was found scavenging the bones of a whale, forming an own ecosystem.
A Jaera isopod crustacean
Researchers think that the skeleton may have been on the seafloor for several decades. 

Samples also revealed several new species of deep-sea creatures thriving on the whale's remains, including a zombie worm known as Osedax burrowing into the bones and a new species of isopod crustacean, similar to woodlice, crawling over the skeleton. 

There were also limpets identical to those living at nearby deep-sea volcanic vents.

The remotely operated vehicle Isis, which researchers used to find Antarctica's first whale skeleton



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