Authorities Try to Get Rid of a Beached Whale Carcass by Blowing it Up
In November of 1970, the Oregon State Highway Division not only had a problem on its hands, but a stinking whale of a problem. What to do with a 45 foot, 8 ton sperm whale, whose rotting carcass had washed up on a beach near the small coastal town of Florence, in Lane County, Oregon? Letting nature take its course, and allowing the whale’s carcass to decompose, was one option. However, the good people of nearby Florence were not too keen on spending the next few years enduring the stench of a rotting whale. Nor were they comfortable with the idea of swimming in waters reeking of whale runoff.
It had been so long since a dead whale had washed up in the region, that nobody could remember how to get rid of one. Without a frame of reference, the Highway Division concluded that dragging the behemoth off and burying it was not a good option, because decomposition gasses would destabilize the grave and uncover it. Cutting it up and then burying it would reduce that risk, but nobody could be found willing to cut up the stinking carcass.
So the authorities turned to dynamite: 20 cases, or half a ton of it. A military veteran with explosives training happened to be in the area, and he warned that authorities that 20 cases of dynamite was way too much. His advice that 20 sticks of dynamite would be enough was ignored by the authorities, who hoped that the blast would disintegrate the whale, with the resulting small pieces getting consumed by scavengers. As a Highway Division official told news reporters: “Well, I’m confident that it’ll work. The only thing is, we’re not sure just exactly how much explosives it will take to disintegrate this thing, so the scavengers, seagulls, and crabs and whatnot can clean it up“.
The dynamite was buried beneath the whale, primarily on the landward side so most of the carcass would get blown into the ocean. Scores of bystanders had gathered to watch the spectacle, and were moved back about a quarter of a mile away as a safety precaution. The onlookers cheered when the dynamite was detonated at 3:45 PM, on November 12th, 1970. However, their cheers quickly turned into shrieks of panic when it became clear that the authorities had greatly underestimated the blast zone, and the safe distance from it.
As it turned out, a quarter mile away from the explosion was way too close, as everybody and everything within half a mile of the blast got showered with rotting whale detritus. A huge piece of blubber flattened a parked car over a quarter of a mile away, while people and other vehicles were pelted by bits of stinky whale carcass. Miraculously, nobody was seriously hurt by the tons of whale flesh hurled into the air.
When the dust settled and rotting whale stopped falling from the skies, dismayed officials discovered that the bulk of the carcass had not even budged. As darkness fell, Highway Division crews were back on the scene to bulldoze and bury the remains, as they probably should have done in the first place. It is reasonable to conclude that if a whale ever washes up near Florence again, the authorities will remember not only what to do, but also what not to do.