You've heard of whale watching, in which tourists come from far and wide to see the majestic marine mammals in action. Well, they also apparently don't mind looking at them when they are dead and bloated, either. Welcome to the worldwide phenomenon of Rotting Whale Carcass Watching.
The Canadian town of Trout River, Newfoundland, is currently dealing with an 81-foot-long blue whale carcass that washed up on shore a little over a week ago. As the whale decomposes, internal gases have inflated the carcass much like a balloon. The rotting stench is horrific, local residents say.
So just get rid of it, you might suggest. The problem, as we wrote in January, is that moving dead, beached whales is incredibly difficult given both their bloated size, and dangers the create should they come apart. In the past, local beach communities have tried burial, live dissection, cranes, and even dynamite to remove the stinking whale carcasses from the area, mostly with disastrous results. Almost all attempts inevitably end in an exploding animals, as the corpse is popped like a giant zit and the noxious gases and rotting innards leak out.
Not that out-of-town residents even want it to be moved. People have been flocking to the town in the past week to get a look at the carcass, according to Jenny Parsons, a restaurant owner in town. "People have been so close they've been actually standing on it," she told CBC. "Not a good idea, because if somebody gets swallowed into the insides of that whale it's going to be quite dangerous to get them out of there," she said.
At least one Trout River resident wants to take advantage of the large influx of gawkers. She told The Guardian, "Right now we have a stream of traffic coming to see this whale, and we would like that to develop further into maybe 'What can we do with this whale for future tourism?'" If the whale's smell drives away regular tourists (and residents), they might as well try to make that up by promoting it for dead whale watching tours, she suggests.
There's some evidence that a plan like just might be crazy enough to work. People all over the world have been flocking to beach towns to see dead whales up close and in person in the past. Here, for example, is a group of people in Myanmar attempting to help move a dead whale, while many others looked on.
Pedestrians in Uruguay pulled out their phones to get a souvenir of this on-the-move whale in January of this year.
Beach-goers in Boca Raton, Florida took time away from their vacation to get a look at a dead whale in January (whale not pictured).
A crowd of Sri Lankans gathered around a floating carcass in 2006.
You get the idea. People find dead whales tremendously fascinating. So fascinating that a putrefying stench and threat of exploding whale blubber will never keep them away. Perhaps charging to see a dead whale is in bad taste, but that Trout River resident seems to just have discovered a universal truth: humans love to look at whales, in or out of the water.
Update: We originally stated that a photo of a Lebanese crowd gawking at a large watery creature was an image of a whale, but deep-sea ecologist Andrew David Thaler informs us the creature was actually a basking shark. The photo has been removed. Our apologies.