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Exploding whale

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File:020904whale 210.jpg
Dynamite was used to blow up a rotting beached whale, with unintended consequences.

The term exploding whale most often refers to an event at Florence, Oregon, in November 1970, when a dead sperm whale (reported to be a gray whale) was blown up by the Oregon Highway Division in an attempt to dispose of its rotting carcass. The explosion threw whale flesh over 800 feet (240 m) away. This incident became famous in the United States when American humorist Dave Barry wrote about it in his newspaper column after viewing a videotape of television footage of the explosion. The event became well-known internationally a few decades later when the same footage circulated on the Internet. It was also parodied in the 2007 movie Reno 911!: Miami.

There have also been examples of spontaneously exploding whales; the most widely reported example was in Taiwan in 2004, when the buildup of gas inside a decomposing sperm whale caused it to explode in a crowded urban area, while being transported for a post-mortem examination.



File:Exploding Whale screen capture.jpg
The Oregon Highway Division failed to dispose of this whale carcass properly when they blew it up with half a ton of dynamite.

On November 12, 1970, a 45-foot (14 m) long, 8-short-ton (7,300 kg) sperm whale beached itself at Florence on the central Oregon Coast.[1][2] Oregon beaches are now under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department,[3] but in 1970, beaches were technically classified as state highways, so responsibility for disposing of the carcass fell upon the Oregon Highway Division (now known as the Oregon Department of Transportation, or ODOT).[4] After consulting with officials from the United States Navy, the OHD decided to remove the whale in the same way as they would remove a boulder. They thought burying the whale would be ineffective as it would soon be uncovered, and believed dynamite would disintegrate the whale into pieces small enough for scavengers to clear up.

Thus, half a ton of dynamite was applied to the carcass. The engineer in charge of the operation, George Thornton, in an interview with Portland newsman Paul Linnman, stated that he wasn't exactly sure how much dynamite would be needed. Thornton later explained that he was chosen to remove the whale because the district engineer, Dale Allen, had gone hunting.[5][6]

Coincidentally, a military veteran from Springfield with explosives training, Walter Umenhofer, was at the scene scoping a potential manufacturing site for his employer.[1] Umenhofer warned Thornton that the planned 20 cases of dynamite was far too much; 20 sticks of dynamite would have sufficed. Umenhofer said Thornton was not interested in the advice. In an odd coincidence, Umenhofer's brand-new Oldsmobile, purchased during a "Get a Whale of a Deal" promotion in Eugene, was flattened by a chunk of falling blubber after the blast.[1]

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."[5] 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 OHD workers to clear away. In his report, Linnman also noted that scavenger birds, whom 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.

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.[7]

Thornton later that day 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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10]

Renewed interest

For several years, the story of the exploding whale was commonly disbelieved as an urban legend.[weasel words] However, it was brought to widespread public attention by popular 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 the "authorless" column and suggest he write something about the described incident.[11] 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."[6]

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 a well-known and popular internet meme.[12] (These websites attracted criticism from upset people who complained that they were making fun of acts of animal cruelty, even though the whale was already dead. These critical emails were subsequently published by the amused site webmasters.)[13]

A 2006 study found that the video had been viewed 350 million times across various websites.[14]

Tainan City, Taiwan

Another well-known explosion occurred on January 26, 2004, in Tainan City, Taiwan, this time from a more natural cause: the buildup of gas inside a decomposing sperm whale caused it to burst. The explosion was initially mysterious, since it unexpectedly occurred in the spine of the whale. It was later determined that the whale had most likely been struck by a large shipping vessel, damaging its spine, and leading to its death. The whale died after beaching on the southwestern coast of Taiwan, and it took three large cranes and 50 workers more than 13 hours to shift the whale onto the back of a truck.

Taiwan News reported that, while the whale was being moved, "... a large crowd of more than 600 local Yunlin residents and curiosity seekers, along with vendors selling snack food and hot drinks, braved the cold temperature and chilly wind to watch workmen try to haul away the dead marine leviathan".[15] Professor Wang Chien-ping had ordered the whale be moved to the Sutsao Wild Life Reservation Area after he had been refused permission to perform an autopsy at the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan. When it exploded, the whale was on the back of a truck near the center of Tainan, en route from the university laboratory to the preserve.

The bursting whale splattered blood and entrails over surrounding shop fronts, bystanders, and cars.[16] The explosion did not, however, cause injuries or prevent researchers from performing a necropsy on the animal.[citation needed]

Over the course of about one year, Wang completed a bone display from the remains of the whale. The assembled specimen and some preserved organs and tissues have been on display in the Taijiang Cetacean Museum since April 8, 2005.[citation needed]


External video
Exploding Whale, KVF, text in Faroese
Sperm Whale Explodes In Stomach-Churning Clip From Faroe Islands (GRAPHIC VIDEO), Huffington Post, text in English
  • A stranded whale in Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, also decayed until it exploded[when?]. Locals reported that its blubber "hung in the trees for weeks."[17]
  • Whale corpses are regularly disposed of using explosives; however, the whales are usually first towed out to sea. Government-sanctioned explosions have occurred in South Africa, Iceland, and Australia.[18][19]
  • A number of controlled explosions have been made in South Africa. Explosives were used to kill a beached humpback whale 25 miles (40 km) west of Port Elizabeth on August 6, 2001,[20] while a southern right whale that beached near Cape Town on September 15, 2005 was killed by authorities through detonation. In the latter instance, the authorities stated that the whale could not have been saved, and that the use of explosives in such cases was recommended by the International Whaling Commission.[21] A few weeks after the Port Elizabeth explosion, the carcass of a second humpback was dragged out to sea and explosives were used to break it into pieces so it would not pose a hazard to shipping.[22]Yet another explosion was performed in Bonza Bay on September 20, 2004, when an adult humpback whale died after beaching itself. In order to sink the whale, authorities towed it out to sea, affixed explosives to it, and set them off from a distance.[23]
  • A whale carcass adrift in the Icelandic harbour of Hafnarfjörður was split in two by a controlled explosion on June 5, 2005. The remains were dragged out to sea; however, they soon drifted back, and eventually had to be tied down.[18]
  • On September 2, 2010, a 31.2-foot (9.5 m) humpback whale that had been stranded for two weeks near the Western Australian city of Albany was killed by the Department of Environment and Conservation using explosives.[19][24] The department had planned to let the whale die of natural causes, but decided to kill the animal with explosives after it repositioned itself on a sandbar.[19]
  • A sperm whale exploded in Við Áir, Faroe Islands on November 26, 2013, when measures were taken to avoid a larger explosion by perforating its skin. Footage of the incident was shown on Kringvarp Føroya, the national Faroese broadcaster.[25]
  • In April 2014, officials in Trout River, Newfoundland and Labrador, expressed concern that the carcass of a blue whale, which had washed ashore and expanded to twice its normal size from trapped gas, would explode.[26]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Finn J.D. John (July 2, 2009). "The truth about the legendary exploding whale of Florence, Oregon". Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  2. Linnman, Paul and Doug Brazil, Chapter 7. Linnman contacted Dr. Bruce Mate, a marine biologist at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport who was there that day. Dr. Mate says that it was not a gray whale, but was in fact a sperm whale.
  3. "State Parks and Recreation Department: Agency History". Oregon Blue Book. Oregon State Archives. 1998. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  4. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is the parent department of both agencies.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Paul Linnman. "Annotated transcript of the video". KATU-TV. transcribed by Hackstadt, J.; Hackstadt, S. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Mikkelson, Barbara; Mikkelson, David P. (March 19, 2000). "Thar She Blows!". Critter Country. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  7. "Son Of Blubber". Oregon Department of Transportation employee newspaper (transcript). July 1994. Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved January 8, 2007. 
  8. Larry Brown (November 13, 1970). "When they blow up a whale they really blow it up!". The Eugene Register-Guard. 
  9. Paul Linnman (2003). The Exploding Whale: And Other Remarkable Stories from the Evening News. photographed by Doug Brazil. West Winds Press. ISBN 978-1558687431. 
  10. "Workers Bury Dead Whale On Oregon Beach". KPTV. March 9, 2009. Archived from the original on June 15, 2009. Retrieved March 9, 2009. 
  11. Dave Barry (1996). Dave Barry in Cyberspace. New York, New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 164–165. ISBN 978-0-517-59575-6. OCLC 34943209. 
  12. Hackstadt, Steven. "The Evidence". Archived from the original on November 9, 2013. Retrieved November 17, 2013. 
  13. "The Infamous Exploding Whale: Letters". Archived from the original on November 11, 2010. Retrieved February 23, 2008. As you might imagine, the whale receives a lot of email. However, seeing as how it's DEAD, it can't respond. (What are all you people thinking?) 
  14. "Star Wars Kid is top viral video". BBC News. November 27, 2006. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  15. Pan, Jason (January 27, 2004). "Sperm whale explodes in Tainan City". eTaiwan News. 
  16. "Whale explodes in Taiwanese city". BBC News. January 29, 2004. 
  17. Spalding, David A.E. (1998). Whales of the West Coast. Madeira Park, British Columbia: Harbour Publishing. pp. 118–121. ISBN 978-1-55017-199-0. OCLC 40982324. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Hvalhræ dregið út á haf og síðan aftur upp í fjöru" [Whale pulled out to sea and then back up the beach]. (in Icelandic). June 5, 2005. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 "Explosive end for sick whale". ABC News. September 2, 2010. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  20. Byelo, Timofei (August 8, 2001). "Explosives Used To Blow Up Whale In South Africa". Archived from the original on November 28, 2004. Retrieved June 6, 2005. 
  21. "Beached whale killed with explosives". Sydney Morning Herald. September 15, 2005. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  22. "Stranded humpback dies". Dispatchonline. August 22, 2001. Archived from the original on July 11, 2010. Retrieved January 8, 2007. 
  23. "Beached whale towed, blown up at sea". SABCnews. September 20, 2004. Archived from the original on January 11, 2008. Retrieved January 8, 2007. 
  24. "Stranded whale to be blown up in harbour". ABC News. September 2, 2010. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  25. "Hvalurin brestur við Áir". Kringvarp Føroya. November 26, 2013. Retrieved November 26, 2013. 
  26. "Dead blue whale 'might explode' in Newfoundland town". BBC News. 29 April 2014. Retrieved 29 April 2014. 

Further reading

External links