Future Tense

Watching This Decomposing Whale Carcass Is Trippy and Beautiful

A whale carcass underwater covered with small octopuses.
Screenshot from the Nautilus livestream

What are you doing right now? Are you worrying about the fate of democracy? Does the week somehow seem to be crawling by even though you had Monday off? Stop all that, and watch a bunch of octopuses pick over a decomposing whale 10,000 feet under the sea. (Thanks, Ed Yong.) On the scale of soothing activities, it fits somewhere between puppy cams and observing a dark and clear starry night. Here’s a five-minute clip:

You can watch the livestream here.

A team aboard the Nautilus discovered the whale skeleton just hours ago, according to the research vessel’s Twitter feed, while exploring the Davidson Seamount, an underwater mountain, with a pair of remotely operated vehicles. In addition to scientists and truly adorable octopuses, the dead whale has attracted the attention of cusk eels and lots (lots) of bone-eating worms. The worms are so tightly clustered on the skeleton they look at first like some kind of algae. The sunken carcass is called a whale fall and can support a whole community of creatures, according to the National Ocean Service, as one is here.

“We didn’t know it was here. It was a surprise to everyone,” noted one of the crew members narrating the feed. Listening to the crew chat as they pan around the scene is part of the charm of the feed. They talk about the samples of bone they’ll take to figure out “who our whale friend was”; they oooh over a photo-bombing octopus; they wonder if long tube structures are (or were) the whale’s aorta; they observe that some of the animals attending the whale fall look spaced out like they’re in a Thanksgiving food coma. Adorably, the scientists also note that there are more people watching their livestream than ever. And how could there not be? Watching the feed feels sort of like being on drugs. Every element is so foreign; we’re deep undersea, the dead whale is the habitat, and even those bone-eating worms are beautiful.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.