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Marine worms dine on whalebone, and males live inside the females

Worms anchored to the skeleton of a young gray whale in a watery canyon off the coast of California are the first known whalebone-eating marine worms

At this all-you-can-eat whalebone buffet, female marine worms never leave once they dig in. Males never visit the buffet — they live inside the females. Bacteria within the females’ roots help the worms eat whalebone fats. A study describing the two new species of worms appears in Friday's issue of the journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the nonprofit science society.
The worms are the latest discovery in a branch of biology focused on the life that springs up on sunken whale carcasses. These carcasses — “whale falls,” in science-speak — dot the ocean floor and sustain colorful and mysterious oases of life, according to Science author Robert Vrijenhoek, a researcher from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, Calif.

Bone-eating worms may play important roles in nutrient cycling. A dead whale is roughly equivalent, in food content, to thousands of years of life-sustaining carbon particles that slowly fall to the ocean floor as “marine snow.”