What would you do if you spotted a dead whale washed up on the shore? Most likely, you’d grab your phone and sprint to the carcass of the whale, touching it and snapping photos next to it. That’s because the whale is an animal that we all love, and seeing one close enough to touch is a wonderful experience. Even so, getting too close to a dead whale is not a brilliant idea. Because this humongous beast could explode anytime without prior warning. That is something you certainly do not want to happen when you are in the vicinity of a whale carcass. Whales can explode not just after washing up on the shore but also while at sea. Let’s take a look at why these whale carcasses are mysteriously exploding.
Whales are incredibly useful sea creatures to the entire ecosystem, and they are the most giant mammals alive today. In a previous article, we discussed how whales help curb global warming. You won’t believe the vital contribution whales make to making the world a much better place. Despite the ban on commercial whaling, around 1000 whales are killed by idiotic and selfish humans each year. Today, we’ll discuss another incredible aspect of this amazing sea creature.
Yes. Whale carcasses can explode. You probably have already seen some video footage of whales exploding on the internet. Once, the Oregon Department of Transportation used dynamite to blow up a rotting giant sperm whale that washed ashore in Florence, Oregon. This was a well-known occurrence that happened a long time ago.
However, this is a relatively rare occurrence, and it is also not a predictable phenomenon. Simply put, the dead whales’ explosions are triggered by gas buildup inside their bodies when their corpses begin to decompose. However, if these gases can escape, there is no chance of an explosion.
If you are a bystander, you can take a bath with this foul-smelling gas and the disgusting fluids produced by the whale carcass when it explodes. Bystanders can also get injured when a whale’s massive, hefty intestines shoot out of its body at breakneck speeds. It is better to keep a safe distance from it.
Why Do Gases Build Up Inside Dead Whales?
When an organism dies, the corpse begins to decompose in a specific manner. The decomposition process (break down) consists of two phases. The first phase is known as autolysis which is the internal decomposition process where every single cell in the dead whale starts breaking down. Every cell in a whale’s body basically carries very toxic chemicals known as enzymes which are indeed very oxidative. When its cells die, it can no longer hold those toxic chemicals, so it breaks down the cells, causing a chain reaction throughout its body. As a result, cells begin to break down at a continually increasing rate, causing toxic enzymes to be released.
During the autolysis phase, the putrefaction process also begins. Putrefaction causes protein and tissue breakdown, resulting in organ liquefaction. Putrefaction usually takes place 4 to 10 days following death. This not only liquefies organs but also produces a very vile smell. When the whale’s carcass emits this odor, we can determine it is at the bloat phase. The cause of this foul smell is the release of various gases, including methane, hydrogen sulfide, putrescine, and cadaverine as by-products during the bloat stage. The gas release causes the body to inflate and push fluids out of cells and blood vessels into the body cavity. These gases may be unpleasant to humans, yet they are immensely appealing to many other insects.
Why Do Dead Whales Explode?
You might have watched videos of how whales explode. However, many of you are clueless about why this happens. The only reason for dead whales exploding is gas produced inside the body. This is where gas laws come into play.
According to Charles’ law, when the temperature of a gas rises, the volume of the gas increases proportionately, indicating that it occupies more space. The temperature of a whale carcass increases when it is exposed to sunlight. The body fills with more gas due to the expansion of volume. These gases cannot escape easily because these mammals have a thick layer of fat called blubber under their tight skin. These gases are difficult to release through the whale’s blowhole, anus, or other pores. Whales are giant mammals, and their own weight often causes their holes to shut. The whale carcass will become more like a gas-filled container making the perfect atmosphere for an explosion.
Furthermore, Avogadro’s law states that when a gas is kept at a constant temperature and pressure, its volume and the number of molecules in the gas are proportionate. Even when the temperature and pressure remain constant, autolysis and putrefaction processes continue to contribute more molecules to the gases as tissues and organs decompose. This causes the volume to expand, and, as a result, the pressure goes up. When the pressure inside the carcass reaches an unbearable level, the bloated beached whale explodes, and the gas rushes out with the guts and other organs at high speeds. So, when it comes to rotting beached whales, there are two possibilities. Either the giant whale explodes, or the gas escapes, and the carcass just deflates.
Whale Explosion Q&A
Can an exploding whale kill you?
As a result of decomposition process, gases such as methane, hydrogen sulfide and nitrogen build-up in the dead whale’s body, increasing the pressure inside the body. A whale’s carcass can explode if there is no way to release that pressure. We all know that a whale is a huge sea creature. When a whale explosion occurs, chunk of flesh and heavy intestines shoot into the air at a speed of 70 kilometers per hour (kph) over a distance of 50 meters. Even a deadly accident could happen to your life if you stay close when the explosion takes place.
Do whales explode under water?
Not all dead whales explode. Instead, dead carcass sinks to the bottom, becoming a source of food for both big and small sea creatures. This is called the Whalefall. According to National Geographic (NatGeo), this food will last for a long time, nourishing the ecosystem.
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