In addition to laying out whale bones on the seafloor to see what colonized them, the researchers also placed pieces of wood to see what made a home there.
Shipworms—which are actually mollusks—are the bane of many a mariner's existence. The organisms bore into the wood of ships and other wooden structures, like piers, destroying them in the process. (Related: "Viking Shipwrecks Face Ruin as Odd 'Worms' Invade.")
Shipworm larvae behave a little like bone-eating worm larvae in that both need to colonize habitats that are only around temporarily, and that can be hundreds of miles or kilometers apart, the study authors write.
But when the researchers set out pieces of wood along with the whale bones, they found a complete absence of shipworms. "We kind of expected them to be there," said Dahlgren.
Instead, hydroids (pictured), which are related to corals and jellyfish, settled on the planks.
Dahlgren and colleagues speculate that perhaps circulation patterns prevent shipworms from other parts of the world from colonizing the ocean around Antarctica.