Chris Ames

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A camera captures the exact moment a sperm whale carcass, slit open with a scythe by marine biologist D’jarni Nikkel, explodes due to a build up of methane gas from decomposition, creating a violent sound, releasing a pungent smell, spraying the side of the observatory with entrails, and eventually, ungracefully (though we all go ungracefully in the end) its skeleton collected by a local maritime museum to be put on display and viewed for an entrance cost of about $18, which considering everything the whale has gone through, seems perfectly reasonable.

It had been so long since it last happened that nobody could remember what to do. The general consensus was that while it certainly wasn’t our fault, it was now our problem. That colossal, rotting thing between us. We had heard rumors of it happening elsewhere. It’s about acting efficiently and effectively. We didn’t want to become one of those towns that can’t take out their own trash. At first, it was almost beautiful. I mean, how often do you get to see a truly wild animal? Such life. But it’s that shameful zoo feeling, when the only way you can experience something raw and exotic is caging it, so all the wonder is cut with guilt. And then the smell. And the birds, circling, shitting, circling. Even worse, tourists. We needed advice.


Washed ashore and expanded to twice its size from trapped gas. The town, a tourist destination inside Gros Morne National Park, has been flooded with gambling circuits placing bets on when the thing will pop. Officials are having no success warding citizens off, saying it’s very difficult to keep people away, simply because it’s not too often that you see a blue whale inflated to the size of a Zeppelin.

After consulting with officials from the United States Navy, we decided it would be best to remove the whale the same way we would remove, say, a boulder. So, half a ton of dynamite. Engineer in charge of the operation, Todd Jarman, stated — on camera, in an interview with newsman Derek Lindsey — that he wasn’t quite sure how much dynamite would be needed. (Jarman later explained that he was chosen to remove the whale because the district engineer, Glenn Tagle, had gone hunting.) Now, we’re not reinventing the wheel here. Whale corpses are regularly disposed of using explosives; however, the whales are usually first towed out to sea. Government-sanctioned explosions have occurred in South Africa, Iceland, and Australia. Many are taken to landfill sites, such as the Skegness whale, which was taken to Winderton, in North Lincolnshire.

Others are disposed through incineration or rendering. But, we’re a small town, with small circles of concern, and small access. When you’re small, you go for quick and combustible.


Adrift and split in two by controlled explosions. The remains were dragged out to sea; however, they soon drifted back (like a dog instinctually knowing its way home) and eventually had to be tied down with anchors.

{Last night I dreamt that I was Noah, collecting two of every animal, but they were all deceased. I had to drag them by their hind legs up across the deck and into the hull. I kept asking God what’s the point? what’s the point? and though he wouldn’t answer, I sort of sensed it was what he wanted. Perhaps something to do with rendering, maybe mulch. Who would want to start a world this way? But still, hauling them up the ramp, one at a time, trying to remember all the nomenclature. Those wild families. Not a single stray forgotten. And in the weirdest dreams we have the strangest concerns, like surely this thing will sink, how can it hold us all (?) , what will I feed them (?) , and never the rational questioning of God, this is no way to brave the flooded green earth, wake up, do something, do anything but the task at hand, and yet, kept hauling the good haul. Keep and kept at it till I woke up with the smell of brine in my nostrils.}


A stranger whale decayed until it exploded, with locals reporting that its blubber hung in the trees like garland.

The stench is affecting us all differently: schools are reporting record highs of bullying, cigarettes are flying off the shelf (smoke to hide the smell), husbands are cheating on their wives, wives are powdering their noses, vegetarians are eating animals and meat-eaters have given up food entirely, religious folks from all angles are singing every Jonah verse and Pinocchio parable, it’s in our clothes (leather’s back in style), we’re cursing like sailors, and no one’s gotten laid in days because who could possibly fuck through all this dead air? Town’s a stale fish and we’re cryin’ like rain dogs.


Here considered royal fish and as such, belong to the Crown upon being caught or landing upon the English shore. (The rules apply in death, too.) The king has the right to the head, and the Queen has the right to the tail. Most always, the royal prerogative has transferred to the receiver of wreck, but in practice the Queen gets to lay her papery hands on the thing first.

Some German explosive specialist is on the horn with our head engineer, but due to the language barrier, we’re having a hard time understanding if we should use 20 cases or 20 sticks of dynamite. From what we’re told, this guys the best. A real detonation expert. Smart, too. He’s got a paper in Palaeobiodiversity & Palaeoenvironments titled “Float, Explode or Sink: Postmortem Fate of Lung-Breathing Marine Vertebrates,” which investigates whether “putrefaction-induced ichthyosaur carcass explosions could explain the skeletal disarticulation observed frequently in the fossil record.” In other words, how do animal bones scatter? And where are they going?


Where people took turns to climb on and ride the body of a minke whale which washed ashore.

We’ve become an attraction. Newsmen are reporting that “a large crowd of more than 600 local residents and curiosity seekers, along with venders selling snack food and hot drinks, are braving cold temperatures and chilly wind to watch workmen set explosives around the base of the dead marine leviathan.” Such sensationalism. We need this thing to be over. Not closure, but an aperture.


Dead and rotting bryde’s whale was mistaken for a capsized ship.

You hear about these remarkable stories in the evening news. For instance: an obese 100-year-old crocodile has died from overfeeding after worshippers repeatedly threw it sacrificial chickens for good luck. Or: cockatoo can’t stop reenacting her previous owner’s marital problems. It’s filler. Blank space. The audio / visual equivalent of packing peanuts. Something to keep the murder story safely encased in prime time. What shorthand will our children use to describe our town’s heart? Where are you from? Oh, the place that fire-lights its animals? Ugly spot. A thought exercise: imagine your city’s heart. Not as a love-thing but as a functioning-thing. Imagine the viscus in the palm of your hand. Make a fist. Throw a punch straight through some gossip’s glass jaw. Kiss off.


When a pod of 41 sperm whales washed ashore in 1979, state park officials burned and buried them, stating “the smell of petrochemical was so rank you could wake the dead.”

Today’s the day. Engineers are hoping scavenger birds pick up what the TNT leaves behind. Hope is a thing with feathers and exceptionally corrosive stomach acid. Rubberneckers prep their phones. Nobody thinks to bring an umbrella. Rookie newsmen on assignment rehearse their alliteration: blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds, blast blasted blubber beyond...

We all came to this party to be eviscerated. I mean, released of our reputation. A thing like this can stain you. Just yesterday at the town hall meeting, “should we bare witness or wait for the fog to clear?” Every last empty argument was heard. But in the end, Old Yeller logic prevailed: Yes, Mama. But he was my dog. I'll do it.

So everyone’s here: mayor, district attorney, school kids, businessmen, marine biologists, detonation experts, newscasters, photographers, street vendors, health inspectors, parks, rec, and tourism. Just then, the sound of trumpets swell from boy scout troupe #547. An eerie attempt at song that fills the crowd with slow-burning dread. Strange chords stir the stale air: c diminished, a flat augmented. Like a team of dog whistles, it is a type of elastic hysteria that sane and rational ears couldn’t bare to hear. But for us, in this occasion - with the foreman setting the base charges, and sand flies flickering around our legs like white noise, and seagulls perched in anticipation, and the mayor dry heaving into his briefcase - there has never been a better time for the ugly crawl of trumpets.

In what we hope is the last time, we breathe in the whale. Yet long after the putrid rain fell, we still held the beast whole in our lungs.

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Chris Ames is a writer who also draws. He lives and works in San Francisco. Visit him here.