Dead Whale in Barcelona

When I heard the news that a dead fin whale had washed up on a beach north of Barcelona, I had to go and have a look. Having spent some hours on a program set up to observe these enormous creatures (the fin whale is the second largest animal on earth), I was keen to see one in the flesh.

Rotting flesh in this case. The whale was in an advanced state of decomposition – and it stank. They don’t show you that in the nature documentaries, and I make for a very poor David Attenborough.

I actually have a very poor sense of smell so I dread to think what it was like for the other people there. It was like a mass of decomposing fish that had been left to rot in a damp bag for weeks.

The police were there too, keeping the public back, which was wise. It’s possible that some of the people watching were unaware of the fact that a whale carcass can explode. You would not want to be drenched in the foul-smelling innards of this leviathan.

This particular whale was a juvenile male and it didn’t look quite as large in real life as it did on TV. It was however, 13 metres long and weighed in at between 12 and 15 tons.

The corpse had drifted down the coast since it had been first sighted, and had become trapped on some rocks near the beach of Montgat.

The whale was on its side so we are looking at it from underneath, and can clearly see its surprisingly white underside. When the sea hit it with particular force, the creature’s tongue was disgorged and flopped along the rocks. The tongue alone was about as long as an adult man.

Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) appear along the Catalan coast during the spring months, feeding off swarms of krill. Considering their vast girth, they can come surprisingly close to the shore.

While I was at the site, the coast guard came to remove the carcass. They had to place a chain around its tail and drag it out to sea and then into the port at Barcelona, because there was a railway running on the landward side. It was impossible to get a crane in place to life it up and over the tracks.

Towing the whale away. You can just see the white bump of the whale as it moves past the end of groyne.

Apparently, it is most likely that the whale was killed through a ship strike, although I also wonder if swallowing plastics may have contributed to its death. Unfortunately, we’ll never know. As the animal was in such an advanced state of decay, it was impossible to perform an autopsy, as would usually have been the case.