Ohhh, that smell. The smell of death surrounds you. See — it’s coming from that beached whale right over there.

POSTED May 8, 2009
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(AP Photo/The Daily News, Bill Wagner)

The dearhearts at Weird World mentioned yesterday that over in Goa, India, former home of Jason Bourne and tropical paradise, there is something in the air. We call this something the stench of rotting whale flesh. As you may know, once an organism dies its cells undergo a form of cannibalism called autolysis (look for an upcoming SYSK podcast on rigor mortis for more on that). The proteins and acids that once performed essential functions within a cell turn on it like revolting slaves on a steamy, blood-soaked Caribbean night. Eventually the cell’s structure is weakened enough that the contents spill into the rest of the body. As this happens to cells across the board all around the same time, all of the fluids and solids that are active and excreted in life tend to produce unpleasant odors in death; the scent of decay.

The corpse of a rotting human is stench enough (as anyone who’s ever happened upon a body in the woods can tell you); the smell broadcast by a rotting whale carcass is precisely 37.89 million times worse.

The people of Goa can attest to this, as the city’s currently figuring out what to do with a dead 45-feet-long (14 m) humpback whale that’s smelling up the whole beach. The best the city officials could come up with was to bury the whale in the middle of the beach. That hasn’t worked all that well; dogs have taken to digging down to the whale and eating the dead, rotting blubber.

Surely Goan’s governors have heard of the exploding whale. In Florence, Oregon in November 1970, an 8-ton sperm whale washed ashore at the local beach. Short on options, the Oregon Highway Division used dynamite to blow the whale carcass up. And up it went; chunks of blubber and flesh rained down on spectators and the highway crew. By the grace of the patron saint of all things awesome, someone had the foresight to record it:


More on
How Whales Work
How Cells Work
What causes rigor mortis?

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