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Could whales explode in Canadian towns?

By Brad Lendon, CNN
updated 3:24 PM EDT, Wed April 30, 2014
  • Dead blue whales have washed ashore in two Newfoundland towns
  • Residents worry whales could explode as gases build up from decomposition
  • Scientists says people should be wary of falling inside dead whale
  • Towns say they're being told removal is a local responsibility

(CNN) -- Canada could have an exploding whale problem.

The carcasses of three blue whales, the world's biggest mammals, washed up on the western shores of the island of Newfoundland this month, and now two towns with carcasses in their boundaries find themselves facing a huge predicament: How do they get rid of the decomposing leviathans before something bad happens, like an explosion?

That's the fear of some of the 600 residents of Trout River, where an 81-foot-long, 60-ton carcass is bloating on the waterfront as methane gas inside expands, according to a report from CTV.

"I'm not sure with the heat and gases that are trapped inside of this mammal if at some point in time it will explode," Emily Butler, Trout River's town clerk, said in an interview published in The Star.

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Jack Lawson, a scientist with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said a whale explosion is unlikely. He's more worried someone could fall inside the decomposing beast.

"The (whale) skin is starting to lose its integrity and if someone were to walk along, say, the chin -- that is full of all that gas -- they could fall in the whale. The insides will be liquefied. Retrieving them would be very difficult," Lawson, told the National Post.

Excluding either of those scenarios, the decaying whales poses a stinky problem as tourist season nears.

"Normally we advertise whales to get people to come, where the restaurant is right on the beach and we often have whales in the cove frolicking about, but we don't want a dead whale as an attraction," Jenny Parsons, who owns the Seaside Restaurant in Trout River, told CBC News.

A second blue whale carcass is in Rocky Harbour, where Mayor Walter Nicolle said the smell is getting worse by the day.

He said the Canadian government has said local authorities in the town of 1,000 people must bear the responsibility and cost of removal, just as they must do in Trout River, according to the CBC.

But Butler, who told the Western Star she originally considered asking local fishermen to tow the carcass out to sea, said her town doesn't have the money or expertise to do so.

"I'm not willing to take on the responsibility," she is quoted as saying. "If that whale does explode, we don't know what danger that would be to our infrastructure, the longliner (fishing boat) itself, or to people."

And she said if the whale were towed out to sea, it could be considered a hazard to navigation by federal authorities.

Lawson told Global News in most cases whales would be left to decompose where they lie.

"Normally, it would have washed ashore on a beach somewhere and would have slowly rotted away and the carnivores and predators would have worked at it until, in a few years time, there would only be bones left," he said.

Butler hopes that's not the case in Trout River.

"It's only going to be a matter of time before it warms up and the smell becomes unbearable," she told Global News.

The whales are believed to be among nine of the endangered species crushed or drowned by ice while feeding, according to a CTV report. While it is not unusual for marine mammals to be trapped by shifting ice, a denser ice pack has made the problem worse this year.

READ: California bill would ban orca shows at SeaWorld

READ: Japanese whaling fleet set to sail despite recent ruling

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