Beached whales do pose a threat to coastal communities. In 2014, an unusually high number of Newfoundland blue whales died and washed ashore, including the specimen Thaler was monitoring, after being trapped in shifting ice patches. If ice shifts in such a way that whales can't surface, the animals are unable to breathe and they can suffocate, reported CTV News. One or two animals are typically trapped in this way each year, but the nine whales that washed up on the Newfoundland coast in the spring of 2014 made for a particularly dramatic year, according to CTV News.
Thaler said the best option in the event of a beaching is to bury the carcass on site and leave it to decompose.
But whale deaths in the ocean, like what Watkins observed, result in a much more natural process. Thaler said scavengers aren't usually able to puncture the whale's thick skin and blubber when the carcass is floating in the sea, and eventually the body will naturally deflate and sink, intact, to the seafloor.
These events, known as "whalefalls," provide a staggering amount of resources for deep-sea creatures, and entire aquatic communities can thrive on the food a carcass provides, Thaler told National Geographic. The breakdown of a dead whale can take up to 30 years, he added.
Original article on Live Science.
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