Dead Blue Whales Raising Big Stink in Newfoundland

B. McPherson

Three dead blue whales have washed ashore in Newfoundland. These behemoths died this past winter when they and six of their pod were trapped in sea ice. Usually when whales die they sink to the bottom and provide nutrients to the other ocean dwellers. These ones floated long enough to land on three different beaches.

What is the problem with that? These whales are endangered and this gives everyone in the villages a rare chance to see one. The whales are massive. A fully grown blue whale can reach 30 metres(98 ft) in length and weigh 170 tonnes(190 tons). As it starts to decompose, that’s a huge amount of rotten meat.

As the decomposition continues, bacteria are generating methane gas. The whales’ skin is still holding the gases in, so the whales are slowly inflating and beginning to look like the Goodyear blimp. While local children are fascinated by the procedure, adults are beginning to worry that the carcasses will explode. It is not a fantasy. A scientist sent to autopsy a dead whale last year in the Faroe Islands had a near miss as he cut into the belly of a two day dead whale.

These picturesque villages in Newfoundland depend on the tourist industry during their short summers and are worried that visitors will leave quickly if the rotting animals remain on their beaches. Getting rid of them is not simple. While the villages have asked various government agencies for help, so far all have declined assistance. Because the whales are critically endangered with only an estimated 250 in the North Atlantic before the nine were crushed in the ice, the settlements are not allowed to simply tow the carcasses back out to sea.

They need a special permit.

For recordings of the blue whales song click here.  

Blue whales were a prime target of 20th century whalers who hunted them almost to extinction. World wide there are an extimated 10 000 left.
 National Post    
CBC News   

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