Allow me to set the scene: It’s a bright, breezy California day as you bob towards an unidentified floating object. Upon closer inspection, you realize it’s an enormous, bloated whale carcass that’s buoyant with natural gasses. “This thing could explode at any moment,” you muse, before the whale proceeds to jettison the entire contents of its body in a big, bloody eruption.
Sound like something you’d like to see? Thanks to WTF! Outdoors, you can. Posting the video to YouTube, the account reveals that the offal explosion took place on the California coast near Tomales Bay. Exactly what kind of whale is bobbing on the surface isn’t quite clear as it’s just a short snippet of footage before its identity is clouded in a billowing slew of blood and organs, but the most common cetaceans to the area are gray whales, blue whales, and humpback whales.
“It is not very nice to see an animal explode, but at the same time it is biologically very interesting,” commented one YouTube user. Biologically interesting is certainly one way to put it, as the video quickly turns to a game of Guess The Internal Organ. Following an initial bloody bang, everything from intestines to lungs and what looks like a spleen comes flooding out of the dead whale’s mouth. If any keen-eyed zoologists out there have a moment to explain which is which, you’ve a stronger stomach than us.
Gassy explosions such as this one are a natural part of decomposition for these animals, and tales of exploding whales have rung out across the world. With a belly full of gas, dead whales have bobbed their way to beaches and even the Staten Island shore (a particularly memorable carcass for its near-spherical appearance).
While their expansive mouths and large body cavities can hold in the death burp for quite some time, they are prone to finally giving way to dramatic effect. Residents of Tainan, Taiwan, learned this the hard way after a 60-ton sperm whale headed to a research facility for a necropsy exploded on a busy street. In this instance, the whale’s entrails burst forth from its belly in a rupture that showered shops and homes with blood and guts. The resulting devastation received mixed responses with some commenting on the awful smell, while others flocked to "experience" the size of the whale's penis.
And of course, one can’t discuss exploding whales without touching on the Great Whale Explosion of Oregon,1970. After a nearly 14-meter (45-foot) sperm whale washed up on the beach in Florence, officials felt they had no choice but to stage an explosion to remove it and the results were... unfortunate.
It seems that exploding a whale is something that ties into the Goldilocks Principle: you’ve got to have the volume of explosives just right. The extremes are acceptable; either just enough to boot the carcass out to sea, or a whole bunch to obliterate the whale completely. What you don’t want is to be sat somewhere in between, which is precisely where the highway division tasked with exploding the Oregon whale found themselves on that fateful November day.
The resulting detonation fired out enormous chunks of blubber in an explosion described by onlookers as “a mighty burst of tomato juice”. Whale boulders traveled a considerable distance before crashing onto buildings, cars, and people. The people of Oregon decided, in good humor, to embrace their heritage in naming a park after the gruesome event. I guess when life gives you whale chunks, make the Exploding Whale Memorial Park.