This Dead Whale Could Explode at Any Minute

The 81-foot whale hasn’t exploded…yet

Trout River, Newfoundland, Canada
Trout River, Newfoundland, Canada Radius Images/Corbis

In the small Newfoundland town of Trout River, the kind of place that's not usually the focus of news stories, residents are worried. An 81-foot* blue whale carcass washed up on their beach, and, as decay fills it with methane gas, it "appears to have bloated beyond twice its normal size," the BBC reports. There's a real risk that it will explode. Soon.

The whale is one of nine blue whales that died this winter after being trapped in the ice off the coast of Newfoundland. Right now, it is a source of curiosity for the town’s residents. Especially the kids, as the National Post reports:

“Kids are curious,” says Ms. Sheppard, the owner, along with her husband, Tom, of Sheppard’s B and B and a frequent visitor to the beach in recent days to take pictures of the dead whale. “The kids were wanting to go over and poke at it. They were wanting to go out and jump on the whale, and it is filling up with methane gas.

“I said to them, ‘My God, don’t you be doing that, because if that whale bursts you’ll be blown to smithereens.’ That’s what I said — and then they asked me if I knew their parents — which I didn’t. But I told them I did anyway.”

An exploding whale won’t actually blow up any bystanders, but it isn’t an idle worry. Last year, the similarly bloated carcass of a sperm whale exploded in the Faroe Islands as a biologist tried to dissect it. And in 2004, another sperm whale exploded in the city of Tainan, Taiwan, while it was being transported to a facility for a necropsy. The explosion showered the street with a disgusting mixture of blood and guts. And kids climbing on the Trout River whale could end up in a pile of guts even if the whale doesn't explode: Research scientist Jack Lawson told the National Post that, with the skin deteriorating, climbing on the whale could mean falling into the decaying, liquid mess inside the body cavity.

At least Trout River knows what not to do. In 1970, a whale washed up on the Oregon beach, and as it began to decompose, residents were desperate to get rid of the carcass. So the Oregon Department of Transportation took 20 cases of dynamite and blew it to high heaven. 

From NBC

Bystanders were moved back a quarter of a mile before the blast, but were forced to flee as blubber and huge chunks of whale came raining down on them. Parked cars even further from the scene got smashed by pieces of dead whale. No one was hurt, but the small pieces of whale remains were flecked onto anyone in the area.

Actual solutions to disposing of a whale carcass include: digging a hole, towing it out to sea or cutting it up into smaller pieces—carefully. Trout River has contacted all sorts of state agencies in hopes of getting the carcass cleaned up, the National Post says, but so far, officails have heard, since the whale is in the town's borders, it's the town's problem.

*This post originally said the whale was 18 feet long. But whales are much bigger than that, and in fact it's 81. Thanks, Nick Pyenson, for calling our attention to this!

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