Skip to Content

Why Do Whales Explode?


It’s a fascinating and gruesome phenomenon that has puzzled scientists and the general public. In this article, we’ll delve into the science behind these explosive events and explore the various theories that attempt to explain them.

Get ready to be amazed and maybe a little grossed out as we uncover the mystery of why whales explode!

Why Do Whales Explode?

dead whale
India, Mumbai: Onlookers gather around a dead Bryde’s Whale reportedly 35 ft long beached on the famous Juhu beach in Mumbai, on January 29, 2016. newzulu/

When you hear about whales exploding, you might think it’s a myth or a made-up story. However, it’s a natural phenomenon that can occur when a whale dies, and its body begins to decompose.

Whales are massive animals, and their bodies start to break down when they die. During this process, gases like methane and hydrogen sulfide build up inside the whale’s body. These gases are produced by bacteria breaking down the whale’s tissues and organs.

As the gas builds up, it can cause the whale’s body to bloat. The pressure inside the whale’s body can become so great that it can cause the whale to explode. This can happen when a whale is stranded on a beach.

Several factors can contribute to a whale exploding. For example, if the whale is on a beach and people start poking and prodding it, this can release gas and cause the whale to explode.

How Are Dead Whales Disposed Of

dead whale
Salvador, Bahia, Brazil – august 30, 2019: humpback whale – Megaptera novaeangliae – dies while running aground on the beach in Coutos in the city of Salvador. joasouza/

Disposing of its massive body becomes a significant challenge when a whale dies. Different methods are used to dispose of the carcass depending on where the whale dies. Here are some of the ways dead whales are disposed of:

Leave It Alone

In some cases, authorities may choose to leave the whale alone and let nature take its course. This is especially true for whales that die in remote areas where there is no risk of the carcass causing any harm. Over time, the whale will decompose, and scavengers and other marine creatures will consume its remains.

Bury It

Authorities may choose to bury the whale where it lies. This method is typically used when the whale dies on a beach or in shallow waters. The whale is buried deep enough to prevent scavengers from digging it up, and the sand helps to speed up the decomposition process.

Tow It Out to Sea

When a whale dies in a populated area, authorities may tow the carcass out to sea. This method typically prevents the whale from washing up on shore and causing a public health hazard. Once the whale is towed out to sea, it decomposes naturally.

Explode It

In some cases, authorities may choose to explore the whale. This method is typically used when the whale dies in a populated area, and there is no safe way to dispose of the carcass. Explosives are used to rupture the whale’s corpse, and the remains are left to decompose naturally.

Do Whales Explode Underwater?

Dead whale upside down floating in ocean sea with two seagulls on it.
Dead whale upside down floating in ocean sea with two seagulls on it. lunamarina/

When whales die, their bodies sink to the ocean floor. Once there, a process of decomposition begins, which can take years. During this process, the whale’s body releases gases, including methane, which can cause an explosion. However, these explosions do not occur underwater.

The water pressure at the depths where whale carcasses typically sink is too great for the gases to build up and cause an explosion. The cold temperatures and lack of oxygen at these depths slow the decomposition process, reducing the amount of gas produced.

How Do Whales End Up Being Beached?

dead whale
Indonesia, Klungkung: A Hindu priest places an offering for a beached sperm whale on Watu Tumpang Beach, in Klungkung, eastern Bali, Indonesia, on March 14, 2016. The 16,2 meter long marine mammal was found dead by the local villagers early in the morning. newzulu/

It’s a sad sight to see a beached whale. But how do they end up there in the first place? There are several reasons why whales become stranded on the shore.

Natural Causes

Sometimes, whales beach themselves due to natural causes. A beached whale could be sick or injured, senile, lost, unable to feed, or otherwise compromised. For example, a whale may experience difficult labour or be too old to swim properly.

Whales may also beach themselves if they are following pods and prey. If one whale expresses distress, the rest of the pod may follow and become beached.

Human Activity

Unfortunately, humans are often to blame for whale beachings. Anthropogenic noise, such as noise made by people, can disorient whales and cause them to beach themselves.

There is quite a bit of recent evidence to suggest that anthropogenic noise is a major factor in many beachings. Additionally, boats and ships can accidentally hit whales and cause them to become stranded.

Unintentional Human Activity

Sometimes, whales become stranded due to unintentional human activity. For example, whales may become trapped in fishing nets or other debris in the ocean. They may also become disoriented by sonar or other types of underwater noise. In some cases, whales may even follow a food source too close to shore and become stranded.