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Why do whales explode when they die?


THERE are around 2,000 whale strandings recorded worldwide every year.

Sadly, most result in the death of the animal, and some have even been known to exploded.

A researcher inspects a dead grey whale in San Francisco

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A researcher inspects a dead grey whale in San FranciscoCredit: Getty Images – Getty

Why do whales explode when they die?

A decomposing whale carcass generates gases which build up inside their stomach and large internal organs.

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

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

And it is often exacerbated by heat from the sun.

But, this part of the body can handle significant amounts of pressure, so it is relatively uncommon for them to explode on their own.

However, people interfering with the body, such as climbing on it, trying to take a souvenir from it, or attempting to move it, can cause it to explode.

And when the skin rips, the gas, coupled with the whale’s insides, will be unleashed – sometimes at very high speeds.

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

Why can’t you touch a dead whale?

Beachgoers are always urged to stay well away from a dead whale.

As well as the risk of pressure building inside the animal causing it to explode – which can happen even from the slightest prod – there is a chance of coming into contact with deadly bacteria on the carcass’ skin.

If you touch a beached whale with your hands, you could easily become infected, especially if the sun is strong and temperatures are warm.

This is obviously unhygienic at best, but could spread infectious diseases.

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, there are several ways their bodies are disposed of, and it varies country to country.

Sometimes whales are towed back out to sea which allows them to decompose naturally – or occasionally blown up with explosives.

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

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

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

Any areas where whales are found beached are considered sacred ground, and indigenous Maori people are permitted to hold a tribal gathering.

They are also, as is tradition, allowed use of a whalebone from any animal which has died as a result of stranding.

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

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

Desperate battle to save baby whale stranded in the River Thames after it became stuck at Richmond Lock





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