Blue whale’s rotting carcase poses explosion risk

Three blue whales, the ocean's largest mammals, have been washed up on Newfoundland's coast. Puicture: Getty
Three blue whales, the ocean's largest mammals, have been washed up on Newfoundland's coast. Puicture: Getty
Share this article
Have your say

The carcase of a whale is rotting along the shoreline of a town on Canada’s east coast triggering concerns among residents it could explode.

The 25-metre (82ft) blue whale is beached next to a promenade in Trout River, Newfoundland, and appears to have so far bloated to more than twice its normal girth.

Town clerk Emily Butler said the dead mammal is emitting such a powerful stench that it is spreading through the town of 600 people.

She said she and other officials were concerned that the methane gas caused by decomposition could cause the animal to rupture with devastating ­effect.

Ms Butler said: “We have a concern… because I’m not sure with the heat and gases that are trapped inside of this mammal if at some point in time it will explode.”

Town hall officials said they have considered asking fishermen to tow the carcase offshore and sink it, but are unsure of what may happen if they attempt to harness it.

But Jack Lawson, a research scientist with Canada’s fisheries department, said the risk of such a blast was “very small”.

He said: “At some point, the skin of the animal will lose some of its integrity as all of the connective tissue starts to break down.

“Eventually, that gas will seep out… It will just deflate like an old balloon.”

Still, Mr Lawson said people should stay away from the 60-tonne carcase, which could be carrying viruses or bacteria that can make human beings sick.

“The risk will come from somebody with a sharp blade who decides they want to cut a hole in the side to see what happens, or if someone is foolish enough to walk on it,” he said.

He said he was aware of YouTube videos showing a bloated, beached sperm whale in the Faroe Islands that suddenly explodes as a scientist uses a large knife to slash open its ­underside.

“With this animal [in Newfoundland], it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to happen, especially spontaneously,” he said.

The scientist said large, beached whales can either be buried with heavy equipment or cut up and shipped to landfill.

Ms Butler asked for help from the province’s environment and government services departments as well as the federal fisheries department to remove the carcase.

She said the town council considered asking fishermen to tow the mammal out to sea but concluded such a task would need to be supervised by an ­expert.

“Nobody has been properly trained in the removal of whale carcases of this size,” she said. The whale is one of three presently beached on Newfoundland’s west coast.