Is the decomposition of bodies at sea any different from the earthly one? A team of scientists attempted to document the action of sea scavengers on dead corpses of pigs. The study provides insight into how scavengers work on terrestrial mammals, and it also has great forensic value as the results can be used in crime-solving.
No matter how meticulously we care for our bodies when we’re alive, they all go back to ultimately being bones and dust the moment the angel of death hits – whether its earthly rest place is underneath the ground, into the air as ashes, or into the ocean. What remains much of a mystery though is what exactly happens to dead bodies in deep seas; it might very well be more gruesome than one would have thought: sea creatures might not actually allow the body to rest in peace.
A team of Canadian researchers therefore decided to find out as to how do scavengers of the sea contribute to the decomposition of a dead body. To achieve their aim, they deposited corpses of pigs into the Saanich Inlet for a period of three years. Thereafter, they monitored the actions of the scavengers onto the bodies of the pigs by using underwater cameras.
The scientists then observed the dismantling of the mammal bodies bit by bit. In a matter of three weeks, the first two pigs were completely eaten by crustaceans, leaving behind only the bones. The third one that was thrown at sea had a different fate though. The environment in which it was placed was lacking in oxygen which resulted in the absence of large scavengers. As a consequence, the third pig was only completely eaten after 90 days.
Hence, the conditions of the water body had an impact on the decomposition of the animal. The Saanich Inlet is known to be deficient of oxygen most of the year, and even anoxic (no oxygen) at other times.
One of the authors explained in a press release:
“While the animals there are adapted to low oxygen, the last carcass was deployed when it was extremely low, which kept out all the big scavengers such as the shrimp and Dungeness crab, leaving the Squat lobsters, which were unable to break through the skin. This now gives us a better understanding of what happens to bodies in such waters.”
Another observation that is of forensic relevance is that the feet automatically come apart from the skeleton when broken down, resulting in the “floating feet” mystery.
“So the so-called mystery of the ‘floating feet’ washing up on shores along the West Coast was not a mystery, but a natural occurrence in the marine environment,” stated one of the authors.