Watch octopuses and bone-eating worms devour a whale skeleton off California coast

A whale died and fell to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean — and deep-sea explorers discovered a swarm of marine creatures devouring the animal on Wednesday.

The phenomenon, known as a whale fall, provides a buffet of nutrients for sea creatures, and entire marine communities can spring up to take advantage of the food source, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A whale skeleton “can support rich communities for years to decades,” the agency said.

This particular whale fall was discovered when scientists with the Nautilus expedition were exploring Davidson Seamount, an underwater mountain habitat within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, according to a news release from the Ocean Exploration Trust, which runs the expedition. The Nautilus ship uses a sonar system to map the seafloor, then relies on remotely operated vehicles to explore under water.

The explorers said the whale fall was spotted at a depth of 3,238 meters — roughly 2 miles beneath the ocean surface.

The skeletal remains of the whale measured about 4 to 5 meters long, according to the news release. The species of the whale is not yet known, but the organization said it’s confirmed to be a baleen whale.

“This appears to be a relatively recent fall with baleen, blubber and some internal organs remaining,” the news release said. “Large scavengers like eel pouts are still stripping the skeleton of blubber, and bone-eating Osedax worms are starting to consume lipids (fats) from the bones.”

The Ocean Exploration Trust said other marine creatures seen on the whale include crabs and deep-sea octopus.

“These gorgeous octopuses are Muusoctopus genus,” National Marine Sanctuary System workers said on Twitter, asking those tuning in at home to help count the hungry animals.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Ocean Exploration Trust was live streaming the whale fall, which showed the creatures devouring the skeletal whale.

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Gabby Ferreira is a breaking news and general assignment reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. A native of Houston, Texas, she was a reporter in Tucson, Arizona; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Palm Springs, California, before moving to San Luis Obispo County in 2016.
Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.