Everything That Happens When A Whale Explodes

Why Do Whales Beach Themselves?

Understanding why whales beach is integral to understanding the process of whale explosion. Usually whales die in their natural habitat, and generally have a positive impact, speaking in ecological terms. One good sized dead whale can provide nourishment for multiple colonies of deep sea creatures and communities. Too large for most scavengers to fully consume, whale corpses end up sinking and their tremendous bulk takes them as far down as they can go, where they become home to any number of unusual forms of life forms found on the ocean floor.

If the whale is sick, off course, or just happens to die for whatever reason and gets caught up by the incoming tide, it doesn’t take much to bring the massive carcass to shore. Sometimes beached whales are not dead when the beach, in fact, they inadvertently go ashore and unable to get back to enough water to regain buoyancy. In the past, random strandings from a group would cause a single beaching, but whales are both incredibly social and incredibly loyal creatures. As a result, incidences of mass strandings have been increasing as healthy whales may beach themselves attempting to cling to weaker or off course pod-mates who may have stranded.

For Alive Beached Whales, Lack Of Food And Increase In Gravity Cause Death

Whales are generally considered some of the largest mammals on Earth. Blue whales, for instance, can grow in excess of 100 feet long and 150 tons in weight. In water, this immense weight is supported by the buoyancy of the water itself. On dry land, this weight alone can prove fatal for whales due to the pressure exerted on their internal organs. A whale’s thick covering of blubber can also lead to dehydration and the lack of the cool temperature of the water can cause deadly heat extremes for the animals. Additionally, outside of their natural habitat, the inability to procure food can lead to death for victims of cetacean stranding. Most species of whale require between 2% and 10% of their bodyweight in food per day. To use the example of the blue whale, dietary needs can be upwards of forty million krill (small shrimp-like creatures) daily.

Gases Inside The Whale Build Up And Go Boom

Once the whale has died, the question of how to deal with what can be a carcass weighing upwards of 50 tons becomes an issue. It is worth noting that dead whales are pretty much going to explode anyway. Decomposing carcasses, in general, have a tendency to explode when the gases produced by decomposition and putrefaction build up and become too much for the body to contain. It’s just that when the creature in question weighs many thousands of pounds, the effect is a little more impressive than it would be in a road kill possum.

The exit points tend to be what they always are, the, uh, fore and aft orifices, and most of the “stinky gases” escape through them, but may become blocked internally. As the animal tissues dry out, fermentation also occurs. Since whale hides tend to be quite thick and durable, the meeting of fermentation and putrefaction can combine to create dangerous levels of compressed gases within the body. As the external tissues break down, the possibility of an explosive rupture increases. Once the membrane is weak enough, an explosion can occur.

Man-Made Whale Explosions Usually Do Not End Well

On November 9th, 1970, the picturesque little beach town of Florence, OR had a problem. An eight ton and 45 foot dead sperm whale washed up on its scenic shores, and the townspeople were trying to figure out what to do with it. The gigantic carcass cooked in the sun, and the smell hit the town hard. Town officials decided to blow the thing into pieces, and let the local waterfowl clean up the resulting mess.

Engineer George Thornton was unsure exactly how much dynamite was needed to disintegrate the thing. A visiting businessman named Walt Umenhofer got wind of the plan and approached Thornton. Umenhofer handled explosives while serving in WWII, and warned the engineer that 20 cases of explosives was too much. Thornton would be better served with 20 singular sticks instead. Thornton ignored his advice. The explosion was spectacular, and the milling spectators were impressed. But the event was quickly overshadowed by the thousands of pounds of fat, blood, bones and blubber that came raining down on the idyllic little town moments later. Reporter Paul Linnman described the scene in the book he wrote after covering the story: “Explosions in the movies usually look like a blast of fire and smoke; this one more resembled a mighty burst of tomato juice.” To add insult to injury, Umenhofer’s car was totaled by a piece of blubber the size of a small truck tire.

A Dead Beached Whale Is Literally A Ticking Time Bomb

So, having established that dead whale plus dynamite equals monumental failure, how does one dispose of a dead whale carcass? In Tainan City, Taiwan, officials decided to load the remains of the whale onto the back of a truck, which turned out to be a huge mistake.

As the animal's corpse was being ferried away, the gases produced by decomposition were steady building. Crowds had begun amassing to watch the carcass drive by. At the height of what apparently became a parade through the center of town, the stomach of the whale ruptured and exploded. The spectators and food vendors who had turned out to see the whale (and its five-foot-long penis) were caught in the gruesome blast that drenched the cars, storefront and the crowd with fragrant blood and guts.

Moral of the story is this: dead whales are going to explode. It's probably best to just wait for it to naturally occur or find a disposal method that doesn't involve dragging it through town.