Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The dead whale in Little Compton

You know you're sick of being stuck indoors on the endless rainy days when going to check out a whale carcass seems like a decent way to pass the time.

Two dead whales washed ashore in the town of Little Compton, Rhode Island, where I've been staying for the past week. One of them, a humpback, landed on the private beach to which my sister and her family belong. The Providence Journal reports today:
. . . on Saturday workers on Briggs Beach spent the day burying the 30-foot-long, 2-ton humpback that washed ashore last week. But some problems arose there on the wet sand.

With the weekend’s pounding surf, a backhoe operator was able to dig down only about four feet before waves started filling the hole, said beach manager Ron Bogle. Then there was the issue of bloating.

The very backhoe

Staff from the aquarium suggested the backhoe operator first use the bucket’s teeth to pop a few holes in the bulging blubber to allow some buoyant gases to escape.

“He banged on that thing with the claw several times but it didn’t make a dent,” Bogle said. “That old saying, ‘As tough as nails’? Well for me it’s now as tough as whale.”

Someone suggested using a chain saw “but no one volunteered to get that close to it,” Bogle said. It smells pretty bad.

The end result come Sunday morning was that with the pounding waves and the ever more buoyant humpback, “the whale is right there on the beach and it looks like we never even dug a hole.”

The plan now, said Bogle, is to wait a couple of days in the hopes that the new-moon tide may lift the whale higher onto the beach. Then once the tide levels recede workers will dig a deeper hole higher up on the sand.

In the meantime, Bogle said he would be speaking with the local police to see if they might shoot some holes in the whale.

Bogle has already ruled out, however, any explosives such as dynamite used once in Oregon to dislodge a similar beached whale.

So my nephew and I checked it out today, being careful to stay upwind, although it didn't smell as bad as we were expecting. I think they shot it because even though it's been dead for a week, fresh blood was dripping from several holes, which was surprising.

Here's what can happen when the decomposition gases build up to the point of no return:

This 60-ton sperm whale was on it's way to a necropsy in Taiwan when it exploded en route. And while on the topic of exploding whales, this video of the detonation of the 1970 Oregon whale is wild. This shows why using a half ton of dynamite to get rid of a dead whale isn't a good idea.

"The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds," as the newscaster put it.


April said...

ew. that's just too funky.. and not in the groovy way. yak.

Anonymous said...

best repoting ev-ah!