The research vessel Nautilus is at it again, with another cool deep-sea find coming our way from the waters of southern California. Last week it was a mysterious purple orb; this week it's a whale fall. 

We tend to think of dead whales as beached behemoths or scavenger-attracting floaters, but sometimes these large animals find their final resting place on the seafloor. These so-called "whale falls" are typically found in the bathyal or abyssal zone, which ranges from 3,300 to nearly 20,000 feet beneath the ocean's surface.

At these depths, the carcasses become a smorgasbord for other marine creatures, providing everything from food (meat, organs and bone) to shelter for burrowing organisms. As the bodies decompose, they also enrich the nearby sediment – which becomes a micro-ecosystem of its own. Everything from sleeper sharks to crabs and "zombie" worms comes to feast and reside near the carcass.

Finding a natural whale fall is rare – the remains might be big, but the ocean is simply vast – so we can understand the excitement of the Nautilus team at making the discovery. "Most of the whale falls that have been studied have been sunk intentionally at a certain spot and then studied over time – so this is pretty cool," a member of the research team says in the clip.

It can take some 30 years for a whale to fully decompose, but things are still hopping even on these seemingly bare remains. 

"With only the skeleton remaining, bacteria begin breaking down lipids trapped inside the bones, generating sulphur, which attracts more bacteria and a larger community of diverse and rare species, including mussels, worms, snails and others," explains the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. 

Want to know more about the process? Check out this fantastic video from Sweet Fern Productions:

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