Thursday, October 07, 2010

Stinky McStinkerson at the Beach

Yesterday at lunch (the non high-schoolers in our house have short days on Wednesdays), we were catching up on the previous evening's DVR'd fare, including the Dancing With The Stars results show. During one of the commercial breaks (which we try to fast-forward over), we saw a little clip for the evening news (of the previous evening) which was "Blue whale washes ashore on a Bay Area beach", and my curiosity was piqued. So I did a little googly work and found out that indeed, a dead female blue whale and her stillborn calf had washed ashore at Bean Hollow, less than an hour south of San Francisco.

Nobody in our house was feeling particularly perky. Ken's just getting over a fever, Kelly's at the tail end of a nasty cough, and Nate was looking a little feverish, and had lost his voice, so I wasn't really interested in doing the "skating/ballroom dance/kung fu/supper/kung fu" routine in the late afternoon, so I made an executive decision that we would not be sharing our germs with any dancers or athletes. No. We were going on an adventure.

Skip had a ton of homework, so after he came home at 3, I pushed Kelly and Nate into the van, and off we went to the beach.

I had no idea what I'd be finding, but I was really quite surprised as we approached Bean Hollow to see that there were cars parked up and down the highway in all directions. I had to drive past the beach, go another mile or so until I could turn around, and then head back north past the beach in the other direction until I found a little pull-out that was wide enough to park at. Fortunately, there is a foot path along the headlands so we didn't have to walk the mile back towards the beach on the shoulder of the road. It was actually quite a nice stroll.

There were so many tide pool areas that I had never noticed, having always driven past to go down to the main parking area at the beach. Oh yes, we will be back another time to explore all these great tide pools.

"Mom, it's dead, right? Is it going to smell?"

"Oh no, honey. It just washed ashore on Monday. It hasn't had time to start to decompose, I don't think."

Ahem. That would turn out to be a bald-faced lie, rolled up in a big wrapping of 'wishful thinking', apparently.

After a short walk, we see where the crowds are starting to gather. I was pleased, because it was quite possible that the whale had washed ashore just south of Bean Hollow, which involves a rather treacherous hike over some crumbling headlands, and i didn't know if I wanted to exert that much effort. But this is close. North of Bean Hollow just a touch.

I sniffed the air. Still pleasant and herbal; fields of sage, with a tang of the sea.

We got a little closer...

Hmm. There was a bit of a fishy smell hanging in the air. Just a touch. Sort of the "should I cook this fish? Hmm, no, I think it's probably past its prime" scent. And besides, it couldn't be THAT smelly. Look at all those people in yellow overalls swarming over the body. I'm probably smelling something completely different where I'm standing.

And then we came around the corner at the tail end of the whale...

...and walked straight into the Wall Of Stink.

Grown men beside me were gagging. Putting their hands over their mouths, and running to the water's edge. Running, with greenish tinged faces, running to be ANYWHERE BUT HERE.

Just looking at these folks in the slickers makes me dry heave.

And how bad does your sense of smell need to be to stand here?

Or sit here?

Surely they're getting danger pay for this job.


And this guy? He was like a sushi chef, so sure-handed with his giant flensing knife.

That puddle behind him is a pool of decomposed whale goo. I'm feeling faint just writing about this.

Some CSI tech I would have made, eh?

To get a sense of scale...

The whale beached on her back, the tail is to the left, and isn't in frame. I didn't realize that blue whales were more than 50% mouth and throat. Word is that they don't know quite how she died, because she's belly up. There's a possibility that she came up under a giant ship's propeller, and her back may be all cut up, but because of the way she's laying, they don't know.

Also, right now, as I'm taking this photo? I'm gagging. And the people in front of me, those two women, they're running for their lives! The wind shifted, and this MASSIVE wall of stink hit us like a truck. This other guy that was talking photos near me said that he really thinks that the whale only REALLY started to smell when the researches first cut open the gut. I bet that the whale was bloated by the time she beached, and I wouldn't be surprised if toxic gas nearly mowed over the first guy to stab his big carving knife into the whale's belly.


Here's another angle, to give you a better idea of how long that creature was. And the guy at the tail end is tall. Easily 6'2".

The kids couldn't take the smell any more, and retreated to the bluffs.

Once you were out of the wind, you were fine.

But I was a sucker for "the great photo", and hung around, beating down the bile as it rose in my throat.

I came around the other side of the whale, and got close to her right side.

This is the corner of her mouth, and her eye is in the lower right. I was so tempted to reach out and touch it. Just to see what a giant eyeball would look like. Or to put a quarter near it, for 'scale'. Although the quarter would be nearly invisibly small. But there was caution tape all around, so you couldn't get too close.

Here's another idea of scale:

And this one...

You could stand upright under that fin... if you could endure the stench, and the soup of decomposition that you'd have to stand in.


Here. Look away! Watch the surf for a bit while your stomach settles...

The kids retreated even farther.

And then we went to the beach next to where the whale was. I'd spotted something, and wanted to investigate.

A piece of the baleen had broken off in the surf, and washed ashore onto this beach. There was no fence around this bit of the carcass, so the kids could get in for a close look. And it didn't smell that bad, either. We just had to stay away from the 100 pound pile of guts that washed ashore next to it. The verdict was that the baleen was sticky, and still smelled too bad to play with.

So the kids explored other places.

Like this totally cool rock wall.

As we were leaving, people were still approaching the carcass. I hope these two dogs weren't planning on rolling in the goo.

They were so pretty and fluffy. And very well behaved around the kids.

It was a fun adventure.

I see a number of follow-up visits in our future.

Maybe next time, we'll wear masks.

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