Abstract

Whitings, drifting clouds of water, milky because of suspended carbonate, have been claimed to originate from either the action of bottom-feeding fish or direct precipitation of calcium carbonate. Five cruises during different seasons were made to the Great Bahama Bank to collect data pertinent to the controversy. Measurements of particulate concentrations average 10 mg/liter with a maximum of 20 mg/liter of carbonate sediment suspended in whiting water, compared with an average of 1.5 mg/liter for clear water outside the whitings. The particles are dominantly acicular aragonite, but Mg calcite composes as much as 20 percent of some whitings. Sedimentation rates, measured with fixed and drifting sediment traps, were as great as 34 g/m 2 /hr. Sediment suspended in whitings aggregated into silt- and sand-size fioccules and settled to the bottom of settling tanks within six hours, even on a rocking ship. Sediment in artificial whitings, created by stirring sediment from the bottom with a shrimp trawl, settled to the bottom in about the same time. Natural whitings, on the other hand, were never observed to dissipate. Because sedimentation from whitings occurs at rates sufficient to cause dissipation of the whitings within six hours, we conclude that the natural whitings are continually replenished by direct precipitation. The search for fish in whitings utilized sidescan sonar and fathometer imaging, shrimp trawls, rotenone, remote video, and direct scuba observation. These methods and 25 years of casual observations leading to this study indicate that fish are not involved in the formation of most Bahamian whitings. Several whitings were found over rocky or sandy bottoms where there was no mud available for fish to suspend. The distance of these whitings from areas of muddy bottom precluded their having been made elsewhere by fish. Stable carbon- and oxygen-isotopic analyses and Delta 14 C activity are interpreted to indicate that the suspended sediment in whitings contains some precipitated calcium carbonate and is not merely bottom sediment stirred into suspension. Estimates indicate that the amount of new carbonate produced in whitings on the Great Bahama Bank is substantially higher than that arising from algal production. Consequently, the amount of sediment transported to deep water may be much greater than previously thought.

You do not currently have access to this article.