TROUT RIVER, N.L. - The 60-tonne carcass of a blue whale is rotting along the shoreline of a western Newfoundland town, triggering concerns from the community it could burst.
Emily Butler, the town clerk in Trout River, said the 26-metre long mammal is beached next to a community boardwalk and is emitting a powerful stench spreading through the town of 600 people.
Butler said she is worried about the possibility of gas expanding inside the dead animal to the point where it will rupture.
"We have a concern ... because 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," she said Tuesday in an interview.
A research scientist with the federal Fisheries Department said the risk of such a blast is "very small."
"At some point, the skin of the animal will lose some of its integrity as all of the connective tissue starts to break down," said Jack Lawson. "Eventually, that gas will seep out. ... It will just deflate like an old balloon."
Still, Lawson said people should stay away from the carcass, which could be carrying viruses or bacteria that can make people sick.
"The risk will come from somebody with a sharp blade who decides they want to cut a hole in the side to see what happens, or if someone is foolish enough to walk on it," Lawson said in an interview from St. John's.
He said he is aware of YouTube videos showing a bloated, beached sperm whale in the Faroe Islands that suddenly explodes as a scientist uses a large, flensing knife to cut open its underside.
"With this animal (in Newfoundland), it's highly unlikely that it's going to happen, especially spontaneously," he said.
Butler said the community has asked the province's Environment and Government Services departments to remove the whale. The two provincial departments were unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Butler said the town council considered asking fishermen to tow the mammal out to sea but concluded such a task would need to be supervised by someone with expertise.
"Nobody has been properly trained in the removal of whale carcasses of this size," she said.
Lawson said he is willing to offer advice, but he said the federal government is not responsible for removing the whale because it is above the high-water mark and is therefore the responsibility of the province.
The scientist said large, beached whales can either be buried with heavy equipment or cut up and shipped to a landfill.
The whale is one of three beached in small communities along Newfoundland's west coast near Gros Morne National Park.
Jenny Parsons, the owner of the Seaside restaurant in the town, said she fears the smell of the whale, which is about 500 metres from her business, will deter customers.
Parsons said she would like to see the whale towed to another location to finish rotting and then return its skeleton so it can be featured as a tourist attraction.
"The whale has got to go," Parsons said. "But I think we have a limited amount of time to figure out where we could put the whale so we don't lose the valuable part of the whale."
— By Michael Tutton in Halifax.
Follow @mtuttoncporg on Twitter.