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Whale Fall (After Life Of A Whale)

5 minutes

(Describer) Depicted in different colors of cardboard, construction and tissue paper, a fishing boat floats on water at night. Nearby is a whale covered in light dots. Title: Whale Fall – parentheses – after life of a whale.

[creaking] [water lapping]

[violin plays sad melody]

(Describer) One of the whale's eyes is a blue dot in a grey oval. The dot disappears.

(Describer) Later, the whale is upside-down, with a dotted line around it. Title in parentheses: rest in peace.

(Describer) The whale sinks, a wire lowering its paper form.

[string ensemble continues sad melody]

(Describer) Its descent is shown from below, against a blue background.

(Describer) Title: Phase One: the mobile scavengers

[string ensemble plays driving tune]

(Describer) Purple, blue and white spots cover the carcass. A rattail fish – macrouridae – swims toward it, joined by others with their yellow and brown ridges on fins and tail.

(Describer) A long-legged crab and three small sharks also appear.

(Describer) The sharks are sleeper shark: Somniosus pacificus. The crab, snow crab: Chionocet species.

(Describer) Sea scuds – amphipoda – scuttle over the carcass with their many little legs.

(Describer) Five long thin legs curl from the Brittle Star – Ophiurida species.

(Describer) A squat lobster – Munida species – is yellow with long claws. One is in each of nine square spaces. Sea scuds then take up the top row, and brittle stars the middle. Three eel-shaped creatures take up the bottom and move away.

(Describer) The black hagfish – Eptatretus deani – has lighter-color folds moving around three orange squiggly lines. A clear material labelled Mucus is released, making the other creatures back away.

[electronic, machine-like humming]

(Describer) The lobster back away more slowly.

[piano, cello, violin play 2-step melody]

(Describer) Title: Phase Two: the enrichment opportunist stage. Pieces the carcass' flesh disappear, revealing the skeleton.

(Describer) Bits of flesh stretch over the bones.

(Describer) Polychaete worms – Vigtorniella species – are shown as a mass of tiny white strips.

(Describer) Swimming between the bones is a long-thin creature with ridges around the outside and orange-dotted stripes lengthwise.

(Describer) The flesh over the bones is shown as purple construction paper.

(Describer) Red and blue chunks start falling, labelled “whale soft tissue”.

(Describer) They fall past and on what remains on the bones, as others keep falling.

(Describer) Some of them land on the worms.

(Describer) More pieces of tissue drift down to rest among more of the worms.

[low droning]

(Describer) Title: Phase Three: the sulphophilic stage.

(Describer) The thin white worms now cover much of the skeleton, the flesh gone.

(Describer) A longer twisty worm with red stripes swims among them.

(Describer) Title: polychaete worm: Bathykurila guaymasensis.

(Describer) The strips of paper as the worms vibrate.

(Describer) Later, the worms are gone. Only some backbones and rib bones remain.

[creaking] [water lapping]

(Describer) Above, water just below the surface glows blue with light from the fishing boat and from the moon.

[chime clanging softly]

(Describer) The dotted outline of the dead whale is shown again.

(Describer) It remains as the rest of the scene is gone. Titles: One whale can live for 50 to 75 years.

[string ensemble plays upbeat melody]

(Describer) One whale can support a community of organisms for 50 to 75 years after death.

Funding to purchase and make this educational production

(Describer) Director of Photography: Artem Agafonov. Edited by Sharon Shattuck, Flora Lichtman. Puppets and Set Design by Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck. Concept by Lynn Levy. Sweet Fern Productions 2011. Funding to purchase and make this educational program accessible was provided by the U.S. Department of Education. Contact the Department of Education by telephone at 1-800-USA-LEARN, or online at

accessible was provided by the U.S. Department of Education:

PH: 1-800-USA-LEARN (V) or WEB:

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Now Playing As: Captioned (English) (change)

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What happens when a whale dies? This short piece explores the concept of decay, and the role decay plays in giving life to other organisms.

Media Details

Runtime: 5 minutes

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