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When Dead Whales Toured The Country

For almost three decades, from the 1950s though the 1970s, three gargantuan, smelly, whale carcasses toured the length and breadth of Europe. The three whales, named Goliath, Jonah and Hercules, were caught off the coast of Norway and were initially driven around Europe to promote the declining whaling industry after World War 2. Eventually, they were acquired by circus owners and showmen and exhibited as sideshow attractions. Before long, the whales had become an attraction in their own right.

dead whales tour

The 58-ton travelling whale Jonah, at an exhibition at Les Invalides in Paris, in 1955. Photo: Vagn Hansen/BIPs/Getty Images

The whales were caught off Trøndelag coast in 1952. For a brief time they were studied and exhibited at Oslo University, where researchers scooped out their insides, emptied their circulatory system of blood and replaced it with thousands of liters of formaldehyde. To prevent the tissues from rotting, refrigeration units were placed inside their hollow interiors. The whales were taken across Europe on specially constructed 100-feet trailers, which were at that time the biggest trucks in the world.

Thousands of people came to see the bizarre attraction, braving the gag-inducing smell to climb inside the brightly lit mammal’s guts decorated with whaling paraphilia and wildlife exhibits.

Strange as it may seem, Goliath, Jonah and Hercules were not the first whales to become a touring visitor attraction. In 1860, a whale caught off Somerset in southwest England, went on a small and less-publicized tour before the whale was rid off its tissues and the skeleton displayed at the Weston Super-Mare Museum. The disassembled skeleton is now at the Grant Museum of Zoology in London distributed across different cupboards and cabinets. Another whale, named Eric, toured England in the 1930s. He was eventually buried under Morecambe's rollercoaster.

dead whales tour

Two children stand inside the gaping mouth of Jonah, the travelling whale, at an exhibition at Les Invalides in Paris, in 1955. Photo: Vagn Hansen/BIPs/Getty Images

Goliath was last seen in Italy. Hercules was in Spain as part of a circus, before decomposition overwhelmed him and the circus went bust. The rotting flesh was incinerated in a giant furnace. As for Jonah, there is a good chance we will see him again in the future.

Jonah has been in storage for the past four decades, and from the following picture taken in 2006, I would say that he is in pretty good shape for a whale that has been dead for the past seventy years.

dead whales tour

Jonah in 2006. Photo: Steve Deput

dead whales tour

Children stand in awe as they confront the sight and smell of Jonah, the travelling whale, at an exhibition at Les Invalides in Paris. Photo: Vagn Hansen/BIPs/Getty Images

dead whales tour

Photo: Vagn Hansen/BIPs/Getty Images

dead whales tour

Dr Rolf Heinriche wears a mask whilst inspecting the stomach of Jonah. Photo: Vagn Hansen/BIPs/Getty Images

dead whales tour

Photo: Vagn Hansen/BIPs/Getty Images

dead whales tour

Photo: Vagn Hansen/BIPs/Getty Images

dead whales tour

Jonah in the 1970s. Photo: Steve Deput

References:
# BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/southyorkshire/content/articles/2009/03/03/jonah_whale_feature.shtml
# BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-35891577
# University College London Blog, https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/museums/2017/07/03/help-us-build-and-clean-a-whale-skeleton/
# Mashable, https://mashable.com/2016/01/25/traveling-whale/

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