Have you ever smelled a dead whale?
You don’t really want to.
On the Maine island where Wife Nancy and I spend time, a research organization called Allied Whale hauled the carcass of a small -- everything is relative, of course -- humpback whale into the bay.
They anchored it there, and it immediately became a tourist attraction.
So many people wanted to see the whale corpse as it floated there in the otherwise scenic bay that boats of all kinds -- kayaks, sailboats and powered craft alike -- began to be as numerous as the flies buzzing around the rotting body.
The cold Maine sea water kept the whale from decomposing as quickly as it would have on land, but after a few days, it was darned ripe.
Some of those who had thought it would be fun to see the floating stinkbomb found themselves retching as soon as they got close enough to catch a whiff.
The only thing that smells worse than a rotting whale is the stench coming out of Washington these days from our two political parties.
But that’s another story, and I’m not in the mood for a rant today.
The whale and its viewers reminded me that we Americans are world-class gawkers. If there’s something out of the ordinary, we’re all ready to take a look, no matter how gruesome it might be.
Anyway, after the whale had seasoned in the sun for a few days, Allied Whale hauled it onto a sand bar in the bay and left it there so researchers could do what they call a necropsy, which is sort of the whale equivalent of a human autopsy.
I’m not enough of a scientist to understand why it helps to figure out what killed a whale, but there are plenty of people who do.
There was a picture in the local paper of the necrologists -- I guess that’s what they’re called -- out there picking the flesh and organs off that mass of putrefying flesh.
Gathered round the poor creature, they looked so relaxed they might as well have been chatting at a cocktail party, ready for another vodka tonic and round of hors d’oeuvres.
I peered at the photo and, lo and behold, standing there in a pink hat, the tools of death in her hands, was my friend Courtney. Turns out she’s been involved in whale research for years.
Courtney’s about 30, a massage therapist by profession -- well, I guess combination massage therapist/whale necrologist. Petite and attractive, she doesn’t fit the image of someone you’d imagine picking at whale gizzards on a summer day.
In fact, there’s not a single bolt protruding out of her forehead, and she doesn’t resemble Quasimodo in the slightest.
Next time I saw her, I asked her how she tolerated the overpowering odor while she had her hands in the guts of a rotting whale.
“All part of the job,” she said. “You just get used to it.”
But she added that even after long years of picking whale innards, some of the researchers still resort to smearing Vaseline under their noses or using other tricks to withstand the smell.
So anyway, that’s about it for dead whales, other than the fact I can’t get it out of my mind that the next time I’m trying to soothe my aching muscles by going to Courtney for a massage, I’m gonna make sure she doesn’t mistake my gullet for a dead whale and jerk a little too hard.