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Oceanography/Large Ocean life- Death effects on environment


Is it possible for a whale or any large ocean creature to die at or near the surface and a boat passing by too close or above the carcass at the time it sinks to be pulled down by the force of the ocean animal sinking?

Hi Elizabeth,

It is very unlikely that a boat floating above a sinking whale would be sucked down with the whale, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the whale would probably not sink very fast, which means that it would not create a significant low pressure over it that would draw (suck) water down. The water around the whale near the surface would simply move laterally to fill in the volume vacated by the sinking whale (that is, move in horizontally over the whale). A boat on the surface at a small distance away from the whale (a body length, say) might be caught up in this lateral movement and move sideways, but would not be sucked down.

Suction associated with  sinking vessel can be attributed to air spaces in the vessel being filled in with water as it goes down, which could create a strong flow of water downward. However, a whale is not that hollow so I don't see this happening (again, the presumably slow rate of sinking would make this a small effect anyway).

Thirdly, some people have suggested that air escaping from a sinking vessel would create an area of bubbles above the vessel. This bubbly mixture of air and water would have a low density so that a boat sitting over this area might not be buoyant and would sink (at least a little). The lack of much air coming out of a dead whale makes this scenario very unlikely.

Hope this helps.


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randy patton


Physical oceanography, surface and internal wave characteristics, ocean currents, fluid mechanics, geophysical fluid dynamics, ocean optics, coastal dynamics, modeling and simulation, data analysis, El Nino and related large scale dynamics Not an expert in marine biology (some in bioluminescence) or chemical oceanography


26 years as professional scientist for research company working mostly on Navy and other government contracts. Projects included modeling, simulations and data analysis related to Non-acoustic Anti-submarine Warfare (NAASW). Other projects included remote sensing of ocean features, statistical analysis of ship tracks, ocean optics instrumentation development, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and sonar (SAS).

Journal of Physical Oceanography, 1984, "A Numerical Model for Low-Frequency Equatorial Dynamics" (with M. Cane)

MS Physical Oceanography, MIT, 1981 BS Applied Math, UC Berkeley, 1976

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