Scottish deep sea 'zombie worms' whale study suggested

Beached whale Dr Higgs suggested dead stranded whales could be returned to the deep sea and left for the worms to find

Related Stories

Scientists are planning to conduct what would be the first study in UK deep waters of creatures known as "zombie worms" that eat bones of dead whales.

The research would involve sinking a whale carcass, potentially at a location off the coast of Scotland.

Similar work has been done in Sweden, Japan and off California in the US.

Dr Nick Higgs, a researcher at the Natural History Museum, and Dr Kim Last, of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, hope to do the study.

The worms from the Osedax genus were only discovered in 2004.

New discoveries of the creatures are still being made. Scientists are also trying to better understand how the worms find dead whales.

The worms do not have a mouth or gut and use root-like tissue to bore into and eat bones.

Large marine mammals that die and sink to sea floors in deep water become a food source for various forms of wildlife.

'Zombie' worm New discoveries of the deep sea worms are still being made

Called whale-fall, the layers of blubber, internal organs and bones can provide sustenance for many years.

Studies of what happens to dead whales, dolphins and porpoises have been done in the UK, but only in shallow water where the worms have not yet been found.

Dr Higgs, a researcher in the deep sea who works from London, and Oban-based marine chronobiology investigator Dr Last, have hopes of carrying out the UK's first deep water investigation.

It would involve sinking a whale that has died in a stranding.

Dr Higgs said it was possible this could be done off Scotland, and with cameras to monitor what happens to the animal.

Deliberately sinking a dead whale is done for scientific studies because it is so rare to find the carcasses at sea.

Dr Higgs said: "We have a good idea of how to do it. It's pretty straight-forward really.

"You just have to make sure the carcass doesn't bloat up too much and then attach a large amount of weight to the back of it and let it sink."

The scientist said sinking stranded whales could be an alternative to cutting them up and incinerating the animals.

Scottish local authorities have spent between £10,000 and £50,000 dealing with dead sperm and pilot whales in this way.

Dr Higgs said: "From what I can gather, sinking would be in order of £10,000 to £15,000.

"I am not saying we should sink every whale that washes up on UK shores, but in some cases it could be cheaper than a disposal costing £50,000 and would also help science."

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

BBC Highlands & Islands

Weather

Inverness

9 °C 8 °C

Features & Analysis

  • Cartoon of women chatting on the metroChat wagon

    The interesting things you hear in a women-only carriage


  • Replica of a cargo boxSpecial delivery

    The man who posted himself to the other side of the world


  • Music scoreFinal score Watch

    Goodbye to NYC's last classical sheet music shop


  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton checks her Blackberry from a desk inside a C-17 military plane upon her departure from Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, bound for Tripoli, Libya'Emailgate'

    Hillary gets a taste of scrutiny that lies ahead


Elsewhere on the BBC

  • Audi R8Best in show

    BBC Autos takes a look at 10 of the most eye-catching new cars at the 2015 Geneva motor show

Programmes

  • A cyborg cockroachClick Watch

    The cyborg cockroach – why has a computer been attached to this insect’s nervous system?

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.