How Can A Dead Whale Explode? Canada Is Wondering, And So Are We

It's a weird, morbid question on many people's minds: Why do dead whales explode? After three dead blue whales — the largest animals to have ever existed on earth —washed up on the shores of Trout River, Baker's Brook, and Rocky Harbor in Newfoundland, Canada last month, residents have been asking officials to remove them — and quick, before they explode. That's right: Whale carcasses are known for having — um — contents under pressure.

Nine Newfoundland blue whales died this winter after getting stuck in heavy ice floes off the coast of Canada, and a sperm whale recently washed up at nearby Cape St. George. That's a huge number of dead blue whales, whose population numbers just 250 in the area. Plans are underway to remove the blue whale carcasses to a museum, but getting the whales there could be difficult, because they're swollen, slimy, and highly pressurized, although the blue whale in Trout River was finally starting to lose its swollen appearance on Thursday. According to town resident Doris Sheppard, interviewed by the National Post, the whales smell "like a toilet."

If it could decay really fast and we were left with the skeleton of a blue whale — wouldn’t that be great — because it would be a tourist attraction. And it is an attraction now, because it is cold and the decaying process is slow.
But once the warm weather comes, can you imagine the smell? It is starting to smell now. Monday it was faint. Today it is a little stronger.

Blech. So how, exactly, does a whale go from being just dead to a danger? Welp, step one, it dies and washes ashore.

Step 2, it starts to bloat as natural gases caused by decomposition, including methane gas, build up inside the whale.

Step 3, it starts to really, really bloat.

Step 4, people do stuff like stand on the carcass. Watch out for that whale, good sir! People have been known to fall in.

Step 5, something disrupts the whale, causing it to explode. In 2004, a dead sperm whale exploded while being transported through the streets of Tainan City, Taiwan. Late last year a whale exploded while a researcher was dissecting it.

But in this case, the Newfoundland residents may be spared the exploding whale phenomenon. According to a reporter on the scene in Trout River, the swelling's going down.