"Stinky Whale" Mystery Stymies Scientists, Aboriginal Hunters

Amitabh Avasthi
for National Geographic News
June 6, 2007

A rancid stench in the meat of some gray whales has made them inedible to Russian aboriginal hunters, according to a new report.

Chemical contamination or disease may be causing the increasing phenomenon of so-called stinky whales, experts say.

A similar stink is also being noticed in the meat of ringed and bearded seals, walruses, and cod, the report by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) adds.

Something Fishy

Aboriginal whalers in Russia's northeastern province of Chukotka first began sensing there was something wrong with the whales in the 1990s.

(See a map of Russia.)

Since then, many of the mammals they tow ashore from a hunt end up having a foul medicinal odor.

People who eat the meat have reported temporary problems such as numbness in the mouth, skin rashes, and stomach aches. Such whales are of no other use to locals.

"Even dogs will not eat the meat," said Gennady Inankeuyas, a whaling captain and chairman of the Association of Traditional Marine Mammal Hunters of Chukotka. The organization looks after the interests of whale hunters and their families.

Some experienced whalers have learned to recognize stinky whales just from the mammals' breath.

Talks with other older hunters reveal that the smelly whales have probably been around since the late 1960s and early '70s.

Chemical Brew

Continued on Next Page >>


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