Image: Credit: CSSF/NEPTUNE Canada

Sunken Treasure

The end of a great creature’s life is the beginning of a long, deep community. /

On a field trip on a September day, my students and I stood on a rocky ocean shore, mesmerized by an object in the water. Bouncing with the waves between a rock outcropping and the rocks of the shore lay an 18-foot dead body. Its sleek form was black with shades of gray and purple. It was a dead whale, lying on its back. The tail and flippers were discernable, but the shape became less recognizable as our eyes scanned forward. The throat, pleated in life, had expanded. A massive spherical bubble eclipsed the familiar shape where we expected its head to be.

Was this a stomach extruded and filled with gases from decomposition? I was not sure what exactly we were seeing. But I did know this: I was on a field trip on a beautiful fall day, it was a dead whale, and it was both disturbing and mesmerizing! Many parts of the natural world have that combination of concurrent attraction and repulsion, but this was bigger and rarer. We stood and marveled.

For weeks afterward, when anyone asked me how the semester was going, I replied, “My semester is great. My students and I saw a dead whale in Gloucester. It was so gross and so fabulous.”

Leaving the shore, I knew the scene would become even more macabre as fish, birds, and crabs consumed the whale carcass in ripped-off chunks large and small. For those scavengers, it must have felt like a grand feast. But the creatures around Gloucester didn’t know how lucky they were.

Imagine living in the dark and cold of the abyssal plain, that vast land deep under the ocean’s surface and far from a continental shelf. These ocean bottoms are some of the most remote, unstudied, and inaccessible parts of the globe. Light does not penetrate; no photosynthesis occurs ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 34 / October 29, 2015
  1. Editor's Note from October 29, 2015

    Issue 34: The long, weighty future of a whale’s body, God’s childlike attention, and hip op. /

  2. Deeper than Deep Space

    The unbelievable and unfathomable truth of the universe is God’s childlike gaze. /

  3. The Joint of Strength and Mortality

    A doctor looks at Jacob’s hip. /

  4. Whale Fall

    “Its carrion / carries on” /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 34: Links to amazing stuff.

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