Regardless of the “how’s” and “why’s,” when a carcass weighing 20 tons and stretching nearly 50 feet in length begins to decompose, action must be taken—and quickly.
Such was the case in Ubatuba, Brazil in October of 2000, when the body of a dead humpback whale was deposited onto one of the city’s busiest beaches, like a sad gift no one wanted. Shortly after its arrival, the whale’s rotting body began contaminating the beach with its overpowering stench and the bi-products of its massive rotting body.
Local officials started scrambling. Approximately 50 individuals from Brazil’s Civil Defense and Forestry Police departments attempted to remove the stranded whale’s remains, employing six tractors to no avail. A subsequent plan was attempted using a tugboat loaned by the Brazilian gas company Petrobras to tow the body by attaching a series of wires to the carcass. This failed when the wires connecting the body to the bow broke before the whale had budged. All the while, neighbors had begun complaining about the smell.
Having learned from past debacles (like the infamous case in Oregon), officials in Ubatuba settled on digging a gigantic hole in the sand and simply burying the whale where it lay.
Eight years later, a team from the Ubatuba Aquarium had an idea. Part of a joint project with schools in the area, experts from the aquarium decided to exhume the humpback whale’s skeleton, which had lain peacefully unmolested below the sands ever since the initial attempted disposal debacles. Together, the professionals and amateurs reconstructed the whale’s skeleton. Today visitors to São Paulo can visit the whale outside the Ubatuba Aquarium, where it has been installed in a spot of prominence, swimming through the skies for eternity.
The Atlas Obscura Podcast is a short, daily celebration of all the world’s strange and wondrous places. Check out this episode about the Ubatuba Whale.
Know Before You Go
The Ubatuba Whale is on display at Praça da Baleia, near the Ubatuba Aquarium.