How do Whales Die? The Truth Behind Whale Death

  • By: Alex
  • Date: July 29, 2022
  • Time to read: 8 min.

“How do whales die?” is a question everyone would like to know the answer to. Many people wonder if there is some sort of ritual that takes place when these giants of the sea pass, or maybe they are simply just sinking into obscurity with nothing more than a ripple in the oceanic waters.

“How do whales die?” is a question everyone would like to know the answer to. Many people wonder if there is some sort of ritual that takes place when these giants of the sea pass, or maybe they are simply just sinking into obscurity with nothing more than a ripple in the oceanic waters.

Whether this death is swift or slow, dark or spectacular, there is no denying the fact that these giants are dying at an alarming rate. This isn’t necessarily a good thing for whales as a whole because in most cases, when one species of whale dies off due to human activity, another whale species’ population suffers the consequences.

Many factors could cause death in whales, but we will focus on three main reasons for their downfall.


1) Sonar Technology

Do whales drown when they die

Whales being massive creatures, in most cases, are simply too big to be able to maneuver around obstacles that threaten them. With the invention of sonar technology, whales have a much harder time detecting objects underwater than they used to.

Whales rely heavily on echolocation, which sends out a high-pitched sound that bounces off objects and then returns to the whale so they can use their highly developed brains to interpret what they have hit.

However, humans are constantly emitting sonar technology into the water directly above whales to detect submarines in today’s world. These thunderous noises disorient whales causing them to lose their sense of direction, and in some cases, even die.

This is not the only cause of whale death due to sonar. Sonar also disorientates fish so that they get caught in fishermen’s nets, where they often die anyway. This causes a massive problem for whales because many rely on those particular species to survive.


2) Human Hunt

Whale death can also be caused by the hunt. Whaling has been a staple in human history, and today is no different. Many whales die after being caught because they accidentally get tangled up with various nets and are unable to free themselves, or they simply drown from exhaustion trying to escape.

Even if the whale does manage to escape captivity, there is still the issue of death by exhaustion. Whales are not built to sustain long-distance swimming, so if they happen to be caught in a net and freed, they have no other choice but to continue their journey on foot. Many whales die from this activity since they are such massive creatures.


3) Malnutrition

Whales also seem to be dying from malnutrition. Whales need a certain amount of food to survive, and some do not seem to be getting it. Scientists think that this is because whales have been forced to swim into deeper water in search of prey due to overfishing. This creates an issue where whales are simply unable to find food out in the open water.

The death of whales can be caused by several things, but more often than not, humans seem to have some type of responsibility in their downfall. Humans may not mean to hurt these creatures, but they definitely are affected in many different ways by our presence.


Do whales drown when they die?

The simple answer to this question is no, they don’t necessarily have to drown. However, how these massive creatures die does allow for them to potentially soak after death occurs. The most significant issue with this is that whales are not built to sustain long distances in freshwater.

Whales are gigantic mammals that mostly live in the saltwater, where they can easily swim and breathe. Even with this being said, these creatures do still come up for air regularly, which is why it has been predicted that if a whale dies while submerged in freshwater, it will likely drown.

The whale’s thick layer of fat is what keeps them warm in the sea, but this same layer causes them to become buoyant when they come up for air on dry land. This can cause issues with breathing if the whale cannot keep its head above water.

To avoid drowning after death occurs, whales can float because of their fat. Although this does work to prevent them from drowning, it is still an issue, which is why many dead bodies of whales have been found on the beaches over time.


Do whales suffocate themselves?

beached whale

It is essential to realize that whales are mammals, and they breathe using their lungs just like all other mammals. The most significant difference between a whale and an average land mammal is that whales cannot move around very quickly due to their massive size.

The breathing process for these giant creatures is not complicated; however, it can cause them some issues if they cannot surface for air. Whales live most of their lives underwater, and they use the water to help them breathe as opposed to using their lungs.

When a whale breathes, it pulls oxygen from the water due to the large blowholes located on its head. These blowholes take in the air so that the whale can breathe, and this will continue until the whale dies. When the whale finally breaks, it sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

At this point, there are no more fish available for sustenance, so it is difficult to know if or when a whale will die unless they come up for air at some point. This issue is that when a whale dies and sinks to the bottom, it will often become trapped in mud.

Eventually, as time passes by, anaerobic bacteria can begin to grow on the creature’s dead body. These types of bacteria will take in oxygen from the air to continue to thrive and survive.

The dead body of the whale will no longer be able to sustain life, and this causes it to sink further into the mud. This will then block off the blowhole, which prevents the whale from breathing in any oxygen at all. This can cause water to fill up inside of its lungs, causing suffocation.


Why do whales explode when they die?

Most dead bodies found by humans show signs that the whale has exploded, but why does this happen? It may sound crazy to think about a whale having enough air inside its body for it to explode; however, this is an authentic scenario.

When these massive creatures die, their blubber begins to decay away from the body. This process is often slow, and it can happen over time as the whale sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor. As long as this whale does not come up for air or decompose somehow, there will be no issues with this carcass being left behind by other creatures.

However, whales do sometimes wash up ashore where other creatures can feed on them, and this does cause some issues. When a whale dies along the beaches, dogs or other large mammals may consume some of its blubbers. This will happen over time until there is less fat left on or around the creature’s body.

The problem that develops from this situation is that there will be less and less fat left on the whale as time goes by. This will cause more and more air to be trapped inside the body, eventually leading to a dead whale exploding.


Why should you never go near a dead whale?

Why do whales explode when they die

One of the most significant issues that come with this situation is tourism. People will often flock to these beaches because they want to see the skeleton from one of these massive creatures while it is still partially intact. However, you need to be aware that there can be air inside of them which may cause them to explode as soon as you get close to them.

This may cause you some serious problems, and it can even cost your life if you cannot get away in time. 

You don’t need to avoid all of the whale bones on the beaches, but you should always be aware of your surroundings when you go out there. If a bone appears to be floating in the water, then you need to stay away from it. There is no way for you to tell if that skeleton is still connected to a living whale or not, so always give them a wide berth while you are out there enjoying your day at the beach.


What should I do if I find some bones on the beach?

If you find a skeleton piece on the beach, you will want to avoid it at all costs. This is not something that anyone should touch since a whale can suddenly explode if they are near the bones when they suddenly break apart.

If the skeleton has already been washed up onto the shoreline, then you should stay far away from it. You need to keep an eye on the sky as well because there could be a whale floating in the air above your head that is going to suddenly fall down out of nowhere.

If you see pieces of these skeletons lying all over the beach, you will want to report them to be removed. This will remove the smell of decay that you may notice, and it will help keep other people out of harm’s way as they visit these beaches.

To report something like this, you will need to find a local office or ranger station. They should be able to tell you where you can take this piece of the skeleton so that you can have it taken away. Usually, they will do this during the nighttime hours so that they don’t disturb anyone else, and there is a particular truck used to transport them on these kinds of trips.

This saves them from digging up the beach because each piece of bone weighs an extreme amount. They can be up to a meter in length, and based on the weight of each bone, we are talking about well over one ton per bone. That means these trucks will be huge for them to carry all of that debris.

If you see someone trying to pick up something like this on their own, then you should definitely report it. The best thing you can do is find a local ranger station and let them handle the situation.


What should I do if I am close to a whale when it dies?

If you see a whale that is starting to die out in the middle of the ocean, you will want to give it some room. You don’t know how long they can stay alive before they slip into a coma, and if that happens, they may start thrashing around. This will cause them to splash water all over the place and send out a bunch of air that may eventually lead to an explosion.

If you are out on a boat when this happens, then you need to make sure that you get everyone off immediately before something terrible goes down. The last thing you want is to get injured or killed because they didn’t take the time to do something like this.