Culture

50th Anniversary of the Funniest Thing That Ever Happened--Oregon's Exploding Whale

YouTube screenshot whale explosion.

I can’t believe I missed the celebration of this uniquely Oregon tradition, but November 12 marked the 50th anniversary of the funniest thing that ever happened. A 45-foot dead Pacific Gray Whale washed ashore in Florence, Oregon, on November 9, 1970, and sat there for three days, rotting and stinking. The decision on how to discard the thing is the stuff of legend.

The plan, conceived by the Oregon Highway Division in consultation with the U.S. Navy, was to use sufficient dynamite to blow the carcass to smithereens small enough that seagulls and other scavengers would clean up the remaining mess.

That’s not exactly how it went. Despite the fact that the Highway Division used a half-ton of dynamite, most observers said the crews needed more. Instead of obliterating the carcass, the dynamite sent large chunks of blubber and flesh flying sky-high—and then rained down on everything within a quarter-mile of the blast. Reporters and lookers-on were covered. Cars were destroyed.

Whale flesh ended up everywhere.

To mark the occasion, the Oregon Historical Society used the original footage, shot on 16mm film, to remaster a 4k video of the report.

MUST WATCH VIDEO:

KATU, the news station that aired the original report, did a fun retrospective on the anniversary, including interviews with the reporter and the cameraman:

“I was asked about it, virtually every day of my life, or commented on it, by everybody, strangers alike,” Linnman said. “I’d come out of Starbucks at 7 a.m., run into someone, they’d say. “Hey, I bet no one’s mentioned the whale to you yet.” Yeah, the guy at The Oregonian box an hour ago mentioned it to me.”

Boom.

“The stuff that’s coming down, the splatting sound and everything else, you realize people are running for their lives,” [photojournalist Doug] Brazil said.

The two had to run to escape the flying blubber and one chunk of airborne blubber proved so big it flattened a car.

“To have it live as story still on the internet after 50 years is just amazing. I don’t think there’s anything else out there with that kind of history,” Brazil said.

The exploding whale story was nearly lost. Doug Brazil tells the story about getting back to Portland and realizing they’d left the original film in a rental car in Florence and getting it back in time to air on KATU.

Florence, it should be noted, is probably a three-hour drive from the KATU studios in Portland.

The exploding whale has become such an Oregon legend, the state even issued a custom license plate featuring the Pacific Gray Whale—the same species of whale that washed up in Florence 50 years ago.

Jeff Reynolds is the author of the book, “Behind the Curtain: Inside the Network of Progressive Billionaires and Their Campaign to Undermine Democracy,” available at www.WhoOwnsTheDems.com. Jeff hosts a podcast at anchor.fm/BehindTheCurtain. You can follow him on Twitter @ChargerJeff, and on Parler at @RealJeffReynolds.

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