# How many people would you need to pull a whale over cobblestone streets?

A whale, lets say a humpback (~40 tons) has to be pulled about 250 m from the port to the town square. The road is classic cobblestone.

People put hooks into the whale meat with ropes attached and pull, dragging the whale body.

How many would I need? I calculated the rough number of people to lift 150t (about 3,750), but I have no idea how many would be needed if the whale is dragged.

Is it even possible?

• What's the incline? I mean I assume that the town's above the level of the port (ie. sea level). Aug 11, 2019 at 22:37
• How wide and straight is the street? Do we need to pull down any buildings? Aug 11, 2019 at 22:40
• You may be overestimating the structural integrity of the whale. What makes you think that this is even possible? That is to say, what makes you think that the whale will stay in one piece instead of the hooks just digging furrows in the blubber? Note that the "flesh" of the whale is nowhere near the surface, and that whales are not designed to be dragged overland by hooks. (See the WP article abot the Tay Whale for a picture of a more practical approach.) Aug 11, 2019 at 22:49
• @AlexP I have absolutly no idea. Edited the Question.
– user6415
Aug 12, 2019 at 0:34
• Why does no one bring up just using logs and moving them from back to front repeatedly? Admittedly it depends on factors such as incline,smoothed v.s jagged cobblestone,available resources,etc. Dragging a whale however would be a.... Interesting endeavour. Whale bodies do not do so well out of water as a result of needing water to support their bulk. So the whale body is very likely to be dragging more and more as time passes from bones bending,breaking,ligaments tearing,etc. Thus making the task harder. If you anchor the chains to the bone it'd help alot. Also a pulley system ideally. Aug 13, 2019 at 4:11

You'll end up with Grated Humpback

The thing about cobbelstones is that they are not a smooth surface. You're dragging what is in essence 150 40 tonnes of whale meat over a large grater.

250m I don't think is long enough to grate the entire whale down, but you're going to lose a lot of it to the road. Also, you're going to have trouble with connecting the whale to your haulers as if you anchor the whale to the ropes via the logical points, the base of the skull, within 100m your crew are either going to be dragging a head (because the rest of the whale ripped off because of the friction with the cobblestones) or you're going to be dragging a head and a spine (because it ripped out with the head, although I think this is less likely).

Whale meat and blubber is not as cohesive as (say) metal. You can cut whale meat with a knife, for instance. And you're dragging 40t of it over a bunch of coarse, sharp stones that act as knives when it comes into contact with the flesh. In point of fact, that's the only reason I'm suggesting it will take around 100m for the head to rip off; the first part of the whale (after the skin) to be ground down by the cobblestones will be the layer of blubber. This fat will act as a grease, greatly improving your haulage of the whale until it runs out of course, and then the meat will grip to the cobbelstones like a rubber tyre and the head will come clean off.

NB: you might be thinking that cars travel on cobblestones all the time, but this situation is more analogous to pulling a large truck along cobblestones with the handbrake on. Don't try doing that at home.

Do your village a favour; invent the wheel and the knife. Cut up your humpback at the shore, put it on carts and haul it into the village like everyone else did throughout history. It's simpler, less waste and requires far less manpower as each cart team can come back to the shore for another installment of whale.

Historically speaking, most whaling boats used to even do the processing closer to the catch, in that they rendered down most of the whale directly on (or more to the point, beside) the boat. Put simply, the primary uses for a dead whale involve using various parts of it, not the entire thing in one go. Incidentally, it's also easier to handle in chunks (no pun intended) than as a whole. As a result, you're actually far better off processing it closer to where the thing is caught (or brought to shore) so if you can't have wagons and knives, the other solution is to bring your processing plant closer to the shore in the first place.

Put simply, 250m of whole whale over cobblestones is a really good reason to build your processing plant by the shore, or cut the thing up beforehand.

• @openend you'd probably find that the lower weight of the smaller whale would still be sufficient to generate the friction needed to grate the whale, and because the amount of whale meat grated off stays the same, but the whale is smaller, you'd end up with MORE of a percentage of the whale decorating your cobblestones by the time you got to your destination, not less. Shadowzee is right however; if you used some form of log or other mechanism to roll the whale, a smaller whale is going to make that a lot easier to do. Aug 12, 2019 at 1:08
• @openend An orca is still 3-6 tonnes. That's a lot of weight if you don't put wheels under it.
– Mast
Aug 12, 2019 at 7:45
• Agreed - use a Whale Sled! Aug 12, 2019 at 12:13
• One slight issue is that once you grate a whale over the street, the blubber residue will provide a smoother ride for the next whale in sequence. Your first few whales may fall entirely to becoming a slipway, but the rest should remain intact. Needless to say, it takes a lot of guts (pun intended) to even come close to this terrible contraption, so "to the middle of the town" is not the kind of destination I could recommend. Aug 13, 2019 at 9:52
• @Liath "And on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus flies by in his magical Whale Sled, pulled by Rudolph the red-nosed humpback whale!" Aug 13, 2019 at 16:04

Someone is going to rain on your parade and it's not me. It's the whale. Literally. More on that later.

If you wish to calculate how many people you need to move a whale, don't bother calculating lifting power. You won't fit three thousand seven hundred villagers under a whale.

But don't go calculating static friction either. Whale skin is thick but it is not indestructible. Tim's got an excellent answer on the reason already, but let me add some gorier details.

Dead animals have gases in their bellies just like we do, but a mix of internal decomposition and clogged... bodily exits makes them bloat. Over time, they may explode. No, really, there is even a name for it: exploding casket syndrome. It is very usual with poorly handled human remains. In Brazil vertical cemeteries are a thing now (think columbarium walls, but with enough space for whole bodies rather than just cremated remains) and I've heard more cases of people hearing the bodies pop than I can count. One that I visited even had marks of the blood that dripped out of a drawer.

Anyway, whales have really large intestines, and the square-cube law dictates that they have more gas and less outlests per body weight than we do. The baleen ones are the worst, for they are really stretchy so they bloat like baloons before the blast. This is one of them critters in Newfoundland, lying topside down and growing like bread dough:

When sane people find them in that state, the intelligent thing to do is to stab them repeatedly to let the gas out. That is very unpleasant for everybody's noses, but it's less unpleasant than having the carcass going off like a bomb on your beach.

In 2004 some folks in Taiwan found a dead sperm whale bull on the beach. They decided to bring it into town because they wanted to experience its huge penis - no I could not make this up if I tried, sober or high. You can see the full story backing up what I just said in the following link but be warned that it may be considered gross: Thar she blows! More pictures of the damage here.

So if your villagers are so desperate for the experience that they are going to be dragging a whole 40 tons bloating carcass over the streets, it's going to take a lot of time. That herculean task is going to blow up on their faces long before they reach their mark and that won't be fun for anybody.

-Hey guys remember how the friar excommunicated us because of that time when we had found that dead whale and we told everybody to come to the town square to see its huge d...

-What happens at the bay stays in the bay, Jimmy.

• I'm never going to be able to use the phrase 'whale of a time' with a straight face again... Aug 12, 2019 at 4:50
• "They decided to bring it into town because they wanted to experience its huge penis" Looks like we got some people who read about the Church of the Whale before the site went offline... Aug 12, 2019 at 11:53
• For actual video of an exploding whale, there's also the one they blew up with dynamite in Florence, Oregon. Whilst the range of the blubber blast there was artificial, the structural integrity and contents of the whale would be roughly the same. Aug 12, 2019 at 13:11
• @rrauenza I am sorry, I got distracted by the bit about a five feet long whale penis. But anyway, a truck should be much faster than being dragged in chains, so in any case OP's whale should blow up closer to the coast. Aug 12, 2019 at 17:24
• +1 for the real-life 3-D gory grossness. Aug 13, 2019 at 6:27

While Tim_B has covered the fact that you can't just drag a dead whale through the streets, there are alternative methods you can use. You will probably only need a team of 10 people, and a separate crew of at least 2 people to perform the feat.

The solution is to put the whale on top of some logs, which roll when you drag the whale. This way you reduce the friction cause by the whale sliding over your cobblestone surface. As your team of 10 people drag the whale, a separate crew need to move logs from the back of the whale to the front to ensure you can continue to roll it.

The only tricky bit is getting the whale onto the logs...but that's a different question.

• If you put planks between the logs and the whale, it will be easier to roll the whale
– CSM
Aug 12, 2019 at 12:41
• @CSM care to put that to test in a controlled environment? Aug 12, 2019 at 13:32
• valid answer, people used this method to move ships in old times. But I would suspect it will take a lot more than 10 people, especially since town square is likely to be uphill from the shore. Aug 12, 2019 at 16:28

Frame challenge.

The whale might not fit in your streets. It is too wide. People have signs, clotheslines, flagpoles, and stuff hanging out from the doors and walls. While they are tall enough so vehicles and people moving through won't snag, the whale will. Moving the animal whole is a bad idea. The other answers do a good job of showing why. It will be a slow process and the meat will spoil.

Don't carry the whale, butcher the whale. If it is for its meat and blubber, butchering where it is is the best choice. Chunks can be big enough to fit in wagons or wheelbarrows. It is what people do with large game anyway.

• "Sorry boss I'm going to be late to work again." "What is your excuse this time?" "I can't get out of my garage because there is a whale blocking me!" +1 Aug 12, 2019 at 17:27
• "There is a whale blocking my driveway." I'm using that as my excuse next time. @renan Aug 12, 2019 at 17:29

What you need is a stretcher. This could be just a large piece of strong canvas. Sailcloth might do in a pinch (possibly several layers thick), and is something your fishing villagers would be very likely to have on hand. Get a suitably large piece, attach it to wooden spars on two sides, and roll the whale onto it. Then you can attach ropes to the spars to pull the whole thing up the street. This gets around the problem of the carcass falling apart from trying to pull it with meat-hooks. (Though you'd still want to ventilate it as @Renan suggested in his answer.) Combine this with some of the other suggestions, such as @Shadowzee's log rollers, maybe add some beasts of burden to the pulling team. Oxen or mules could be useful for pulling large heavy loads, and will be much more efficient than trying to get enough weakling humans around to move that much weight.

• How would you roll the whale though? Aug 12, 2019 at 17:29
• @Renan A bunch of people (and possibly pack animals) pushing can with some effort roll the whale to the side a short distance. This technique can and has been used to rescue beached but still living whales. If it's already dead, of course, the aforementioned meat-hooks will make it considerably easier since you're not trying to avoid injuring it. Aug 12, 2019 at 17:35

It'll be easier in winter.

Insofar as:

• Now the corpse is refrigerated, so it won't be quite so explodey.

• And the corpse is rigid, which will make it easier to manhandle around.

• And the streets are, or can be, covered in ice, which is nicely slippery and non-gratery.

• The oxen won't be as busy as during plowing season, so you can draft those animals into service as draft animals.

• Why do you assume the town is in the arctic? Aug 13, 2019 at 19:34
• @RonJohn There are plenty of places in the world that experience winters with freezing temperature that could cover a street in ice and chill a whale, that are not even close to being in the arctic. Aug 13, 2019 at 22:32

Humans are analog machines that seek the path of least resistance. So, they'd start dragging the whale and stop after breaking their backs for a few minutes and think up a better solution.

If you look at how the Egyptians made the pyramids, it was assumed for a long time they just had tons of slave labor dragging stones on ground. But, they actually would wrap some to make wheels they could roll, and others they wuold place logs under to roll along much easier on the ground.

Basically.. humans are not idiots.

If you're writing a story where humans are just dragging a whale on the street, readers are going to think about why they'd do that themslves and feel like their intelligence is being insulted. Because they themselves would be thinking of more ways to do that better then spending time believing the folks in your story are not doing it themselves.

If the whale will survive the trip, and the path is wide enough, and you can securely anchor enough ropes for everyone to have room to pull it.... (Yes, there are a lot of very good points here on 'why' this is a very bad idea) I estimate that the average person here (assuming a relatively active lifestyle from sailing/fishing etc...) could start 50kg of resistant mass (guestimate from personal experience doing weight training) adding up to at least 800 people for a 40ton whale.

• Without saying why 800, how do we know you aren't pulling the number out of your arse? Aug 13, 2019 at 10:13