What Happens To The Whales That are Washed Ashore

Whales are among the largest animals on Earth, while the blue whale, which can weigh up to 173 tons, is the absolute record holder. Thus, the rare occurrences of a dead whale washed ashore tend to cause severe headaches for the local population and authorities, not only due to its sheer size and sickening smell but also due to the alarming real threat of a whale carcass explosion.

Like most animals, once a whale dies, bacteria in its intestines begin to digest it from the inside, resulting in a build-up of gas, causing the carcass to swell and eventually explode.

This is exactly what happened on January 29, 2004, when a 17-meter sperm whale washed ashore in Tainan, Taiwan. The animal was loaded onto a trailer and taken to Sutsao Sanctuary for an autopsy when the carcass suddenly exploded in the middle of a busy city street, causing a stream of fat, blood, and whale entrails to fall on the heads of about 600 onlookers. But not all whale carcass explosions are caused by natural processes; one bizarre incident in 1970 had much more to do with human intervention and brought glory to a small town in Oregon.

On the morning of November 9, 1970, near the town of Florence, which is 200 kilometers south of Portland, beachgoers stumbled upon a sea giant – a 14-meter and 7-ton carcass of a sperm whale, washed ashore the night before. Although the massive carcass quickly attracted a crowd of curious onlookers, they were just as quickly put off by the rapidly spreading stench, and local authorities were brought in to address the problem. They put 41-year-old engineer George Thornton in charge of clearing the beach and getting rid of the fetid monster.

Thornton began to decide how best to get rid of the stinking mountain of fat. The dead whale could not be buried, as the tide would quickly open the burial, and the carcass was too large to burn. The animal could not be dismembered for the simple reason that no volunteers were found for this. After consulting with the US Navy, Thornton finally decided that dynamite would help get rid of the carcass. The idea was to rip the carcass into small pieces, which would then be taken away by crabs, seagulls, and other sea scavengers.

But how much dynamite does it take? Since there were no official instructions for this kind of operation, Thornton was forced to rely on his intuition and ultimately decided that 20 boxes (about half a ton) would be enough.

The blast was scheduled for noon on November 12, and about 75 people gathered to watch it from nearby dunes. Covered by cameraman Doug Brasil and presenter Paul Linnman of KATU-TV Portland, the broadcast soon became legendary. The dynamite exploded at 15:45, sending a fountain of smoke and blood high into the air. In the footage captured by Brasil, audience applause can be heard briefly, and then, to everyone’s horror, a series of characteristic sounds are heard as pieces of carcass begin to rain down on the beach.

Despite the powerful explosion, the whale carcass remained largely intact; the explosion vomited only a relatively small part of the carcass. Worse, the seagulls that were supposed to take away the remains were nowhere to be seen, they were scared away by the explosion. Thus, Thornton was forced to send workers with earth-moving equipment to remove the carcass that had been torn apart by the explosion and bury it elsewhere on the beach.

Source: Today found out