Four Ways to Deal With a Beached Whale Carcass

Seeing a dead whale on the beach is upsetting to some and interesting to others, but the smell can be overpoweringly awful. You really have to get rid of those things if you want to use the beach anytime soon.

So, in a city like San Diego, California, where a dead whale washes up on the beach regularly, you have to have a contingency plan for whale carcass disposal.

When lifeguards saw a 36-foot-long gray whale floating off the coast of San Diego last week, they started an all-too-familiar process of removal. Figuring the carcass would ultimately wash up on the beach, as they often do, they towed the dead whale to Fiesta Island, their designated whale-removal spot.

The average person isn't trained to handle removing a raccoon carcass from their yard, let alone a multi-ton sea creature. What are your options for removal, anyway?

Dead Whale
Workers inspect a dead humpback whale that washed up on the sand on Rockaway Beach, in New York, on April 5, 2017. The average person isn’t trained to handle removing a raccoon carcass from their yard, let alone a multi-ton sea creature. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Explode It

In 1970, the Oregon Highway Division (now called the Oregon Department of Transportation) decided to address a sperm whale carcass beached in Portland. Their approach was to detonate it with a half-ton of dynamite.

They assumed that the explosion would turn the whale into reasonable size chunks and seagulls would eat the rest. Perhaps not surprisingly, the explosion scared away the seagulls, fat rained down on people and the beach with a pat-pat-pat-pat-pat, and one chunk of the whale landed on and damaged a car.

And yes, there's a video .

Compost It

The Michael Bay in me loves a good whale explosion, whether by dynamite or by itself. But why waste all that organic material when you can throw it on the compost pile?

A North Atlantic right whale washed up in the town of Gorham, Maine, and ended up on a compost pile. The farmer said that whales make smelly but good compost. After composting an animal's flesh, fat and organs, the bones can be removed and used for anatomical study.

Drag It Back out to Sea

Most whales that die at sea don't end up on a beach but ultimately sink to the ocean, creating a "whale fall," which is a feast for other ocean creatures.

But Jose Ysea, a public information officer with the City of San Diego, notes that sometimes whale carcasses towed out to the ocean just come back to the beach, going further south down the coast of California after each haul.

"The only thing that happens is it keeps washing onto shore until it gets to San Diego, and we have to dispose of it," he told Newsweek. In the last 10 years, Ysea says that he's seen 10 to a dozen whales washed up on the beach in San Diego.

Take It to a Landfill

San Diego's standard plan of action is to tow a whale carcass to Fiesta Island, where workers at Parks and Recreation will load it into a truck. In the case of the recent gray whale at San Diego, workers used four front loaders to lift the enormous carcass into a truck.

"The driver takes it to our landfill, where our landfill employees carve it up and bury it," Ysea said. They cover the body parts with other junk, and eventually, the animal will be forgotten.