Yes, Beached Whales Really Do Explode

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There is a dead whale washed up by a boardwalk onshore in the Canadian village of Trout River, Newfoundland, and it is causing trouble, The Guardian reports. Not trouble of the sort that a live whale can cause, but perhaps worse: This one can explode.

The massive, 60-ton blue whale carcass is bloated to close to twice its normal size and emitting a stench that those who haven’t come into contact with whale carcasses probably can’t comprehend. As the decomposing whale fills with methane gas, it has sparked a debate in the town of 600 people: Is it, in fact, in danger of bursting?

Town Clerk Emily Butler says maybe:

"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," Butler said.

Most worrying, Butler has told news sources that the town lacks the sufficient resources to deal with the carcass.

The exploding whale phenomenon has a history. Famously, a sperm whale in Oregon was blown up—deliberately, with the help of half a ton of dynamite—by the Oregon Highway Division in 1970. That blast was caught on camera, and whale blubber reportedly landed on people a quarter of a mile away:

More recently, a whale corpse exploded from the natural buildup of gas, in Taiwan in 2004. Nobody was harmed, though foul-smelling whale entrails and blood covered nearby people and buildings.

That crisis might well be avoided in Newfoundland. Jack Lawson, a research scientist who seems to know a thing or two about methane buildup, has told The Guardian that an explosion of that sort is unlikely.

“It will just deflate like an old balloon,” he said, coining what is perhaps the loveliest simile ever used to describe a 60-ton carcass of rancid, decomposing flesh.

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