Graveyard Shift
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What Happens to a Body That Decomposes Underwater

Updated February 20, 2019 330.8k views7 items

If you're wearing "cement shoes," chances are you might find yourself "sleeping with the fishes." While this may sound like dialogue taken from The Godfather, it raises the real question: What happens to a corpse in water? Mere moments after expiring, body decomposition kicks in as bacterial enzymes start to break down the body's soft tissues and spread throughout the blood vessels. From there, it's a pretty predictable process of putrefaction, then bloat, purge, advanced decay, and finally, dry remains.

However, submersion in water slows down this process and most notably, stops your body from becoming a buffet for flies and other creepy crawlies like it does on land. The truth is, there's just a lot we don't know about underwater body decomposition, which is why scientists have recently conducted studies and experiments ranging from recovering deceased victims of plane tragedies to dumping pig carcasses into Canadian waters. Read on to learn some gruesome facts about underwater decomposition sure to pique your morbid curiosity.

  • You Might Form Wax

    Adipocere, also known as grave or corpse wax, is a hard grayish substance that forms during decomposition, but particularly in bodies submerged in water during the winter. This process occurs over a few months when the fatty tissue beneath the skin begins to saponify, or turn into soap.

    Since the cold temperatures inhibit bacteria production, this wax can help preserve the body.

  • Your Body Becomes a Seafood Buffet

    Photo: Unknown / Max Pixel / Public Domain

    When researchers at the Simon Fraser University in Canada dropped three pig carcasses into the Saanich Inlet near Vancouver Island, they discovered almost immediately that the three little piggies attracted a variety of shrimp, crabs, and crustaceans that feasted on their bodies. The same outcome applies to bodies that are left in the oceans.

    But they're not the only ones to tuck in; marine scavengers like turtles and sharks are also known to feed on decomposing bodies.

  • You Lose Your Hands And Feet

    Photo: Brittany Liddon / MacDill Air Force Base / Public Domain

    According to a study published in the textbook Advances in Forensic Taphonomy, the hands and feet of a corpse floating in the ocean are consistently the first things to break off the body. These body parts don't usually end up resurfacing, except in the strange case of a series of severed feet.

    The parts keep mysteriously washing up on the Pacific Northwest shoreline.