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Whales, Whaling, and Ocean Ecosystems$
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James Estes

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780520248847

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520248847.001.0001

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Bigger is Better

Bigger is Better

The Role of Whales as Detritus in Marine Ecosystems

(p.286) Twenty-Two Bigger is Better
Whales, Whaling, and Ocean Ecosystems


University of California Press

This chapter discusses current ecosystem responses to the input of whale detritus. It then estimates the effects of industrial whaling on the production of dead whales and speculates on the consequences of these changes for marine ecosystems. Finally, it proposes an experimental approach to test some of these speculations. Whale carcasses are end members in the spectrum of marine detritus, constituting the largest, most energy-rich organic particles in the ocean. Most great-whale carcasses sink essentially intact to the deep-sea floor, where they are recycled by a succession of scavenger, enrichment-opportunist, and sulfophilic assemblages. Although the flux of organic carbon in whale falls is small compared to total detrital flux, the massive energy concentrated in a whale fall can support a diverse deep-sea community.

Keywords:   whale detritus, industrial whaling, marine ecosystems, marine detritus, whale carcass

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