From the archive: What happens when a whale dies
I wrote this in 2011 shortly after Steve Jobs' death.
I’ve always found whales to be really endearing. In elementary school, my teacher told me that whales were among our closest animal brethren in the seas. They also live for about 50-75 years, and, according to Wikipedia, can teach, learn, cooperate, scheme, and even grieve.
Those majestic creatures swim through the ocean, from place to place. The other oceanic animals I’m sure are aware of whales, but unless they’re plankton being eaten by whales, I doubt they pay much attention.
That is, until they die.
You see, whale death, also called a “whale fall,” is a pretty magical event. After the whale dies, often times they sink… deep to the ocean floor.
Curious scavengers can smell the decomposing whale from afar, and make the trip to come pick it apart.
After the scavengers leave though, all that’s left is a skeleton of this once magnificent beast.
Eventually, a “fugitive species” of little worm-like creatures find the skeleton, and start a thriving ecosystem based on the skeleton. In fact, 30 species of tubeworm have only been found present at whale falls. Their entire life and prosparity seems to depend on the whale skeleton.
According to RadioLab from where I first heard about whale falls, the ecosystem continues on for another 50-75 years; another full lifetime of life based on what the whale left around.
Steve was a whale. His skeleton? The bicycle of the mind.