The term whale fall describes the ecosystem that emerges when a whale carcass falls to the ocean floor. The decomposing body invites and is aided by a biodiverse community of hagfishes, octopuses, bone-eating worms, snails, and countless other species—some uniquely adapted to reside within this deep sea biome. Whale fall also has a significant role in sequestering carbon, which would otherwise be released into the ocean’s surface waters and Earth’s atmosphere. Most nations follow the International Whaling Commission’s 1986 moratorium on commercial whale hunting, but the continuing effects of centuries of industrial whaling that greatly diminished whale populations include reductions in the number of whales that fall, their carbon sink potential, and the livelihoods of species that make these sinks their home. That is, whale fall is not an isolated phenomenon, but is enmeshed with marine and terrestrial food webs, energy and climate systems, species biodiversity, and our cultural imaginaries around whales.
I am fascinated by this metamorphosing system and how it extends well beyond its deep sea ontology, holding in concert concepts that Western-colonial traditions tend to think of as opposites, including death and life, extinction and evolution, and individualism and collectivity. Grids, the foundation for most comics, provide an animating and shifting playground to consider whale falls’ disorienting entanglements of deterioration and growth. Borrowing from environmental DNA research and sequencing methods that approach organisms in solution and inseparable from the contexts of their relations, this work experiments with letterforms and color-coding to ask what voices, throughlines, and possibilities for survival echo in the mesh.