Sinking whales

From: Dagmar Fertl (
Date: Tue Mar 06 2001 - 20:46:03 EST

This may seem like an odd question but I assure you it is legitimate.

My son needs this for a school report. He was able to find a great deal  of useful
information on the web but he needs to know,

"How long does it take for a dead whale to sink to the bottom of the ocean?"

Any help you can give is greatly appreciated. My email address is:

Thank you,

Maureen Capps
Hi Maureen,
There is no such thing as a non-legitimate question, especially when it comes to marine mammals. It is an interesting question, and basically, one that does not have a definite answer, since no one has actually attempted to study this question.
Carcass disposal is actually quite a question for stranding networks world-wide. Geraci and Lounsbury's guide "Marine mammals ashore: a field guide for strandings" has some pretty entertaining stories about people dragging whale carcasses offshore and then they manage to make their way back to shore.
In short, the answer is that most whales and dolphins after dying sink immediately. I say most, because apparently right whales do not. This lead some whalers to call that species of whale, the right whale, since it did not sink immediately after it died...making it easier to carve it up.
Another important factor is whether you are talking about part of a whale, a whole whale, or even a whale that has been opened up. Opening up a carcass helps it sink. Otherwise, the intact carcass as it decomposes in the hot sun builds up gases - probably eventually making it explode. It is debatable whether pieces of whale vs the whole intact whale fair better.
Kinda gross, but hope this helps answer the question. Basically, the whale sinks after dying. It may bloat and come back up to the surface, only to eventually sink again. That would be my educated guess on the topic (along with some advice from some stranding network coordinators on how to answer this question.
Best wishes,

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