Little Bits of History

Thar She Blows

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 12, 2010



Dynamite was used to blow up a rotting beached whale, with unintended consequences.


November 12, 1970: A dead whale that washed up on the beaches at Florence, Oregon is disposed of. The 45 foot 8 ton sperm whale had been dead for some time before being beached. The smell was unpleasant at best. The Oregon Highway Division was called in to rid the beach of the effluvium.

Paul Linnman was a reporter working for KATU News and he went to film what was supposed to be a rather comical disposal problem. The Highway Division had decided the corpse could not be buried because it would soon be unburied. It could not be cut into pieces because no one wanted the job and it was deemed unsavory to burn it. Instead, it was decided to blow the whale to bits so that scavengers could eat them.

Over 20 cases, one-half ton, of dynamite was placed on the leeward side of the whale. It was thought that the bloated, stinking corpse would disintegrate and with the power of the blast, most portions would be blown out toward the ocean. George Thornton, the highway engineer in charge of the project told the camera, “I’m confident that it will work.”

The 75 bystanders were moved back to about a quarter mile from the blast site. The dynamite exploded with the cameras showing the scene and the background voices laughing and in a festive mood. Until … plunks and thuds are heard on the tape. The people were being pelted with whale blubber, one huge slab falling on a parked car and crushing it. Fortunately, no large pieces caused severe harm to any spectators. The major portion of the whale remained undisturbed on the beach and was eventually buried.

Dave Barry found out about this fascinating bit of engineering catastrophe and in his famous “I am not making this up” reporting style wrote the event up for his Miami [Florida] Herald column in 1990. The article made its way into his book and the whole infamous episode was brought again to the public attention. Oregon did learn from their mistakes and when a pod of dead whales was once again beached on their shores, they incinerated the corpses. For video goodness, see here.

“The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.” – Paul Linnman

“My insurance company is never going to believe this.” – Walter Umenhofer as he surveyed the crushed remains of his big Buick.

“So anyway, the highway engineers hit upon the plan – remember, I am not making this up – of blowing up the whale with dynamite. The thinking here was that the whale would be blown into small pieces, which would be eaten by sea gulls, and that would be that. A textbook whale removal.” – Dave Barry

“Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.” – Denis Waitley

Also on this day, in 1859 Jules Leotard gives the first trapeze performance ever.

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