22 February 2010

How low (in oxygen) will seafloor scavengers go for a treat?

Posted by Michael McFadden

“Cadavers in Support of Forensic and Hypoxia Research”: This title of an Ocean Sciences abstract immediately grabbed my attention. Why would oceanographers dump pig corpses in the sea and watch with cameras as the bodies decomposed?

For starters, the pigs are perfect proxies for human cadavers, so they allow forensic experts to study how sea creatures scavenge the remains of homicide victims thrown into the sea, says Verena Tunnicliffe, a professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and director of the VENUS cabled underwater observatory. But Tunnicliffe is more interested in what the underwater-pigs experiment is teaching her about how ocean critters deal with hypoxia. Watch as she explains how bottom crawlers sometimes risk insufficient oxygen in order to get a tasty meal:

As Tunnicliffe told me by e-mail: “Life is pretty amazing — it will always push the limits.”

— Maria-José Viñas, AGU science writer