Why do whales explode when they die?

There are approximately 2,000 whale strandings recorded worldwide each year.

Unfortunately, most result in the death of the animal, and some have even exploded.


Researcher inspects dead gray whale in San FranciscoCredit: Getty Images – Getty

Why do whales explode when they die?

A rotting whale carcass generates gases that build up inside its stomach and large internal organs.

This then causes them to expand, but the whale skin and fat is tough, so the gases are trapped inside, according to National Geographic.

This tends to happen in the huge throat pouch, which is usually filled with seawater so that the whales can filter it for food.

And it is often exacerbated by the heat of the sun.

But, this part of the body can withstand significant pressures, so it is relatively rare for them to explode on their own.

However, people who interfere with the body, such as climbing on it, trying to remove a memory from it, or attempting to move it, can cause it to explode.

And when the skin tears, the gas, coupled to the inside of the whale, is unleashed – sometimes at very high speed.

The smell of a rotting whale is said to be one of the worst smells in the world.

Why can’t you touch a dead whale?

Beach goers are always advised to stay away from a dead whale.

Besides the risk of pressure building up inside the animal causing it to explode – which can happen even with the slightest pressure – there is a risk of coming into contact with deadly bacteria on the skin of the carcass.

If you touch a stranded whale with your hands, you could easily get infected, especially if the sun is strong and the temperatures are hot.

This is obviously unsanitary at best, but could spread infectious disease.

What happens to whales when they die on the beach?

When a whale dies at sea, its body will eventually sink.

But when they end up dead on the beach, their bodies are disposed of in a number of ways, and this varies from country to country.

Sometimes whales are towed out to sea, allowing them to decompose naturally – or sometimes explode with explosives.

In Iceland, Australia, the United States and South Africa, all have used government-authorized explosions in the past.

If the carcass is older, it is sometimes buried or taken to landfills.

Things are very different in New Zealand where whales are beached quite frequently.

Any areas where whales are found stranded are considered sacred ground, and indigenous Maori are allowed to hold a tribal gathering.

They are also, as tradition dictates, to use a whalebone from any animal that has died as a result of stranding.

And in many parts of the world, scientists will be gathering as much biological information about the whale as possible for further study.

A spokesperson for the Natural History Museum said: “Because it is so rare to happen on a natural whale fall, scientists can take the opportunity to strategically take and sink parts of these animals to help improve understanding of the decomposition process. “

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