How to Humanely Euthanize a Whale

Leaving a beached whale to its own devices means a drawn out, painful death

Photo: Nick R

Up until now, there's been no good way to euthanize a whale. Mounting evidence indicates that these creatures are not only intelligent, but sentient and self-aware, even deserving of legal rights. When they manage to beach themselves and returning them to sea is not an option, wildlife managers feel an imperative to help ease that dying animal's pain. But how? 

Chemicals are often required in too great a dose to be safe for humans and the environment, National Geographic reports. (That whale carcass has to go somewhere.) Instead, wildlife managers have used explosives end the animal's life in one messy blow, while others prefer to slice an artery near the whale's tale, essentially letting them bleed to death. These methods might sound brutal, but they are preferable to the alternative. Leaving a beached whale to die naturally is an extended, painful affair. Here's NatGeo

Exposure to sunlight causes a whale's skin to blister and peel, almost like a third-degree burn. And their prone position makes them easy pickings for scavengers like seagulls. "The gulls really like to go for the eyes, and they don't worry about waiting until the animal is dead," [says Craig] Harms, [an aquatic veterinarian].

In the end, without the buoyancy of seawater, a beached whale is crushed to death under the weight of its own organs and blubber. It can take from several days to a week for a stranded whale to die, the veterinarian explains. "It's a long, slow suffocation."

Now, a new, more humane alternative is available. Harms has concocted a four-drug cocktail that is both humane and safe. The first dose calms and relaxes the whale, NatGeo says; the second two drugs act as a pain reliever and anesthetic. Finally, potassium chloride puts the whale out of its misery, stopping its heart. Harms told NatGeo that this is "not something we enjoy doing." But at least wildlife managers can take solace knowing they are ending an intelligent creature's suffering as quickly and humanely as possible. 

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