How long does it take for a body to decompose at sea?

Monday 18th July 2011
Submitted by hashworth1

It depends on the temperature of the water. In cold water, the bacterial action that causes a body to bloat with gas may be so slowed that the body stays on the seabed. The skin will absorb water and peel away from the underlying tissues in about a week and fish, crabs and sea lice will nibble away at the flesh. Cold water also encourages the formation of adipocere. This is a waxy, soapy substance formed from the fat in the body that partially protects the body against decomposition. Bodies have been retrieved almost completely intact from waters below 7°C after several weeks, and as recognisable skeletons after five years.
In tropical waters such as the Arabian sea, it’s a different story. Even a weighted body will normally float to the surface after three or four days, exposing it to sea birds and buffeting from the waves. Putrefaction and scavenging creatures will dismember the corpse in a week or two and the bones will sink to the seabed. There they may be slowly buried by marine silt or broken down further over months or years, depending on the acidity of the water.

GOT A QUESTION?

Scratching your head over a burning scientific conundrum? Submit your question and we'll get our esteemed panel of experts to answer it for you.

 

What is a hiccup?
previous qanda Article
How does your nose know when food is rotten?
next qanda Article
Q&A Tabs

Phlegm is the mucous secretion of the respiratory passages. The cilia cells that line these passages are continually driving the phlegm upward to the throat, where it triggers the swallow reflex...

Humans looked essentially the same as they do today 10,000 years ago, with minor differences in height and build
due to differences in diet and lifestyle. But in the next 10 millennia, we...

Yes, vehicles create a region of relatively low-pressure air behind them, and it is indeed possible to reduce fuel consumption by getting into this ‘slip-stream’. According to research...

Lobsters and other shellfish have harmful bacteria naturally present in their flesh. Once the lobster is dead, these bacteria can rapidly multiply and release toxins that may not be destroyed by...

Astronomer Fred Hoyle was the first to point out that if you could drive a car upwards at 95km/h (60mph), it would only take about an hour to get into space. To get to the Moon would take a little...

All female mammals have a clitoris, the sole purpose of which is to react to sexual stimulation, and presumably this stimulation has evolved to be pleasurable for most species. But establishing...

To create a sound, we have to set matter - whether it's a gas like air, a liquid or even a solid material - in regular motion, creating a wave of specific frequencies, which we hear as a sound of...

Mirrors don’t reverse left and right either – that’s just our interpretation of what happens. Your reflection in the mirror is actually reversed front to back – if you have...

Discovered by an American student named Gary Flandro in the mid-1960s, the slingshot manoeuvre usually involves spacecraft briefly 'coat-tailing' a planet orbiting the Sun, extracting some of the...

The ice disappears because the wind blows away water molecules that have evaporated or 'sublimed' from the ice, so the ice slowly shrinks in size. The molecules that escape are those with the...