A History of Dead Whale Tourism: Trailered, Detonated and Auctioned

by Owen James Burke


(Photo: Taiwan Apple Daily/Reuters)

Above is an image taken after the infamous Tainan, Taiwan incident, in which an adult male sperm whale was loaded onto a trailer-truck bed and toted around Taiwan so that men could embrace its sexual organ in order to fortify their own, they purport.


(Photo: Rob Cartwright)

This giant sperm whale washed up along the shores of England’s Hunstanton on Christmas Eve, 2011, and many good tidings were abandoned for a glance at this dead, rotting beast. I may not be one for Christmas, but what is it that creates such an affinity within the general public for large dead organisms?

Earlier this year, an estimated 9 adult blue whales — one 81-feet long — were trapped in ice in the north Atlantic off Canada’s eastern seaboard due to harsh winter conditions. When their carcasses washed ashore, people came from far and wide to catch a glimpse of the dead cetaceans. Fortunately, scientists have gotten to these before they exploded, and they’re going to be studied and preserved by the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

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Then there was the great exploding sperm whale of Florence, Oregon in 1970, of course.

After consulting the US Navy, the transportation department of Oregon decided to dispose of the 45-foot long, 8-short-ton sperm whale in the same way they do boulders: fill it with a charge of dynamite potent enough to take out a city block. Newscasters in full suits and curious civilians perched atop a cliff thinking they’d be watching the spectacle from a distance.

Instead of filling the whale with 20 sticks of dynamite (as suggested by a military veteran with explosives training), state official George Thornton ordered that it be loaded with 20 cases. The resulting discharge bathed an entire beach of onlookers in blood and guts, destroyed at least one car, and left the beach a hot, stinking mess for some time later. From then on, any whale that washed ashore in Oregon was not charged and detonated but burned and buried.


(Photo: Taiwan Apple Daily/Reuters)

But, it would be hard to trump the 50-ton sperm whale that was toted around Taiwan on the bed of a tractor-trailer so that men could run down their front steps into the street and physically embrace its member because, of course, it is believed that it increases virility. And really, how could any man not get the urge after touching a dead whale’s penis?

Halfway through it’s tour de Taiwan, it began to boil like any large mammalian carcass sitting in the sun, you’d imagine. It burst all over the road, the sidewalks, and anything and everything else that was in its way. You might think that Taiwan — an island — would be well-versed in their protocol for dealing with cetacean carcasses washing along its shores, or that, at the very least, they’d somehow heard about the exploding whales, but you’d be mistaken.


(Photo: Jet Belgraver/Al Jazeera)

This mother and son duo stopped along Nova Scotia to take a “selfie” with this lifeless, beached blue whale off Rocky Harbour, Canada.

It’s often amazing to see what can draw a crowd. I think there are a few prairie towns in the midwestern plains of the United States that could do their tourism industries a great deal of justice by shipping a couple of dead whales out into a few remote fields every once in a while. There might just be a few Canadians willing to part with a certain stench of rot with whom they might be able to open such a discussion.


(Photo: National Post)

In fact, more recently, a town in Newfoundland was so fed up with a lack of government aid in removing a sperm whale carcass that they did just that, by listing the whale (pictured above) on eBay — only to have the listing removed, as it seriously violated the website’s terms of sale. Bidding started at $0.99 but had risen to over $2,000 by the time it was taken off the website.

Both scientifically and economically, there seems to be a lot to offer in a dead whale, and it is something remarkable, no doubt, to have the opportunity to catch a glance at the largest living mammal (contemporaneous with humanity), whether it be live or dead. But would you haul the blubbery 50 tons onto a truck and drive it around your country for all to see (and touch)? Or stop your yuletide, put down your egg nog and head out onto a bitter cold beach in the dead of winter to gaze at a reeking pile of death?

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