HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Main » General Discussion (Forum) » 50 Years Ago Today; Dead ...

Thu Nov 12, 2020, 05:10 AM

50 Years Ago Today; Dead whale removal goes horribly wrong in Oregon 🐳 💥


There have been several cases of whale carcasses bursting due to a buildup of gas in the decomposition process. Actual explosives have also been used to assist in disposing of whale carcasses, ordinarily after towing the carcass out to sea. A widely reported case of an exploding whale occurred in Florence, Oregon in November 1970, when the Oregon Highway Division (now the Oregon Department of Transportation) blew up a decaying sperm whale with dynamite in an attempt to dispose of its rotting carcass. The explosion threw whale flesh over 800 feet (240 metres) away. American humorist Dave Barry wrote about it in his newspaper column in 1990 after viewing television footage of the explosion, and later the same footage circulated on the Internet. It was also parodied in the 2007 movie Reno 911!: Miami and in the 2018 Australian comedy Swinging Safari.

An example of a spontaneously bursting whale carcass occurred in Taiwan in 2004, when the buildup of gas inside a decomposing sperm whale caused it to burst in a crowded urban area while it was being transported for a post-mortem examination.

On November 9, 1970, a 45-foot (14 m) long, 8-short-ton (7,300 kg) sperm whale washed ashore at Florence on the central Oregon Coast. At the time, Oregon beaches were under the jurisdiction of the state's Highway Division, which, after consulting with the United States Navy, decided to remove the whale using dynamite assuming that the resulting pieces would be small enough for scavengers to clear up.

George Thornton, the engineer in charge of the operation, told an interviewer that he was not sure how much dynamite would be needed, saying that he had been chosen to remove the whale because his supervisor had gone hunting. A charge of one-half short ton (450 kg) of dynamite was selected. A military veteran with explosives training who happened to be in the area warned that the planned twenty cases of dynamite was far too much, and that 20 sticks (8.4 lb or 3.8 kg) would have sufficed, but his advice went unheeded.

The dynamite was detonated on November 12 at 3:45 pm. The resulting explosion was caught on film by cameraman Doug Brazil for a story reported by news reporter Paul Linnman of KATU-TV in Portland, Oregon. In his voice-over, Linnman joked that "land-lubber newsmen" became "land-blubber newsmen ... for the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds." The explosion caused large pieces of blubber to land near buildings and in parking lots some distance away from the beach. Only some of the whale was disintegrated; most of it remained on the beach for the Oregon Highway Division workers to clear away. In his report, Linnman also noted that scavenger birds, who it had been hoped would eat the remains of the carcass after the explosion, did not appear as they were possibly scared away by the noise. The explosives-expert veteran's brand-new automobile, purchased during a "Get a Whale of a Deal" promotion in a nearby city, was flattened by a chunk of falling blubber.

Ending his story, Linnman noted that "It might be concluded that, should a whale ever be washed ashore in Lane County again, those in charge will not only remember what to do, they'll certainly remember what not to do." When 41 sperm whales beached nearby in 1979, state parks officials burned and buried them.

Later that day, Thornton told the Eugene Register-Guard, "It went just exactly right. ... Except the blast funneled a hole in the sand under the whale" and that some of the whale chunks were subsequently blown back toward the onlookers and their cars.

Thornton was promoted to the Medford office several months after the incident, and served in that post until his retirement. When Linnman contacted him in the mid-1990s, the newsman said Thornton felt the operation had been an overall success and had been converted into a public-relations disaster by hostile media reports.

Currently, Oregon State Parks Department policy is to bury whale carcasses where they land. If the sand is not deep enough, they are relocated to another beach.

Renewed interest
The story was brought to widespread public attention by writer Dave Barry in his Miami Herald column of May 20, 1990, when he reported that he possessed footage of the event. Barry wrote, "Here at the [Exploding Animal Research] Institute we watch it often, especially at parties." Some time later, the Oregon State Highway division started to receive calls from the media after a shortened version of the article was distributed on bulletin boards under the title "The Far Side Comes to Life in Oregon". The unattributed copy of Barry's article did not explain that the event had happened approximately twenty-five years earlier. Barry later said that, on a fairly regular basis, someone would forward him his own column and suggest he write something about the described incident. As a result of these omissions, an article in the ODOT's TranScript notes that,

"We started getting calls from curious reporters across the country right after the electronic bulletin board story appeared," said Ed Schoaps, public affairs coordinator for the Oregon Department of Transportation. "They thought the whale had washed ashore recently, and were hot on the trail of a governmental blubber flub-up. They were disappointed that the story has twenty five years of dust on it."

Schoaps has fielded calls from reporters and the just plain curious in Oregon, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts. The Wall Street Journal called, and Washington, D.C.-based Governing magazine covered the immortal legend of the beached whale in its June issue. And the phone keeps ringing. "I get regular calls about this story," Schoaps said. His phone has become the blubber hotline for ODOT, he added. "It amazes me that people are still calling about this story after nearly twenty five years."

The footage that was referred to in the article, of the KATU news story reported by Paul Linnman, resurfaced later as a video file on several websites, becoming an internet meme. A 2006 study found that the video had been viewed 350 million times across various websites.

5 replies, 988 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 5 replies Author Time Post
Reply 50 Years Ago Today; Dead whale removal goes horribly wrong in Oregon 🐳 💥 (Original post)
Dennis Donovan Nov 12 OP
John1956PA Nov 12 #1
underpants Nov 12 #2
Dem4Life1102 Nov 12 #3
malaise Nov 12 #4
nuxvomica Nov 12 #5

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Nov 12, 2020, 06:04 AM

1. "You think you put enough dynamite in there, Butch?"

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to John1956PA (Reply #1)

Thu Nov 12, 2020, 06:38 AM

2. Perfect response

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Nov 12, 2020, 07:15 AM

3. How ironic

Since there is a dead whale removal going on in DC at the moment.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to Dem4Life1102 (Reply #3)

Thu Nov 12, 2020, 07:21 AM

4. I was about to post that this is a perfect metaphor for the

end of the orange blubber whale's presidency. He's sure stinking up the place.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu Nov 12, 2020, 07:38 AM

5. There was an episode of The Simpsons that was similar

Matt Groening is from Portland so I guess it was an homage to this incident.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread