The Infamous Exploding Whale
An 8-ton, 45-foot-long sperm whale, dead for some time, washed up on the Pacific Ocean beach south of Florence, Ore. At first it was a curiosity for local residents and visiting beachcombers. But the beached behemoth became a stinking mess as the foul smell of rotting whale wafted through the dunes.
Because the Oregon beach is a public right of way, the state Highway Division was given the task of cleaning up the mess. But how? If buried, the carcass would soon be uncovered by the ocean tides. Officials at the Department of the Navy were consulted, and a plan was hatched to blast the blubber to smithereens using a half-ton of dynamite. What little was left would be eaten by seagulls. (Remember, we are not making this up.)
Needless to say, it didn't go well. The blast pulverized only part of the whale, sending pieces soaring - not toward the ocean, as planned, but toward people watching from the dunes. Luckily, although a car was crushed by a large piece of flying blubber, no onlookers were hurt, unless you count being covered by a rain of smaller particles of the foul-smelling flesh. That's when most onlookers left and the Highway Division crew buried the balance of the beached whale.
"I can remember it vividly," said George Thornton, then assistant district engineer, who got the whale cleanup task by default. "I got designated because district engineer Dale Allen (now ODOT Region 4 manager in Bend, Ore.) and others took off hunting when this thing broke - conveniently, I think," Thornton said, laughing. "To be fair, they had [already] planned on going [hunting], but this thing made them all the more anxious to go."
"I said to my supervisors, usually when something happens like this, the person ends up getting promoted," Thornton added. "Sure enough, about six months later, I got promoted to Medford." Thornton retired from ODOT in 1990.
Epilogue: When a pod of 41 sperm whales washed ashore in nearly the same location in 1979, State Parks officials burned and buried them.
The following news item shows what was done - and the aftermath of it.
For more information about the exploding whale, and for higher resolution movies that you can download and view, go to the following websites:
The Exploding Whale web site