A dead 62-foot whale spooked examiners when it made bubbling noises — a warning it could explode

Wildlife experts from a conservation group in Ireland began to examine a 62-foot dead fin whale that had washed up on a beach but abandoned their autopsy when they heard bubbling noises — a warning that the whale might blow up. (See example of a dead sperm whale that exploded while being cut open in the video below, posted by EuroNews.)

"I got blubber, baleen and skin. I was going to attempt to get some muscle but I heard some sounds and was like, this is going to explode in my face if I go any deeper," the fin whale examiner, Stephanie Levesque of The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) told the Irish Examiner.

The bubbling sounds indicated a possible build-up of methane gas, which can cause the whale to violently explode. But it was later determined that in this whale's case, an explosion was actually unlikely. However, to play it safe, the experts did not resume the necropsy.

From Live Science:

The dead fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), which was around 62 feet (19 meters) long, washed up in the early hours of July 9 at Baile Uí Chuill Strand, in County Kerry, the Irish Examiner reported. The cause of death is unknown but the hefty whale had likely been dead for up to three weeks before it washed ashore, based on the level of decomposition. 

When whales die, their guts begin to fill with methane gas, which often causes the corpses to inflate like a balloon, float on the ocean's surface — and occasionally float onto shore like the dead fin whale. In high enough concentrations, and when mixed with oxygen in the air, the gas can cause whales to explode, either spontaneously as pressure increases, or when the remains are cut open; although this is very rare, Levesque told Live Science in an email. …

In 2013, a marine biologist in the Faroe Islands had a lucky escape after a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) that washed up dead violently exploded when the scientist cut into its stomach, The Guardian reported at the time. And in 2019, an unidentified baleen whale spontaneously exploded on the surface of the sea off the coast of California, spraying blood and guts into the water, according to IFLScience. …

With the fin whale in Ireland, it later became clear that the whale was unlikely to explode and it has been left to decompose naturally, Levesque told Live Science. "There was some bubbling [sounds] but nothing that led me to believe it would actually explode." The necropsy was abandoned as a precaution to make sure that the body cavity stayed intact, she added.

The cause of the fin whale's death has not been determined.

Front page thumbnail image: Juan Gracia / shutterstock.com