The 1970 Oregon Whale Explosion: A Bizarre and Explosive Cleanup

On November 12, 1970, the residents of Florence, Oregon, witnessed an extraordinary event when an exploding whale sent chunks of meat and blubber soaring 100 feet into the air.

A 45-foot-long, eight-ton sperm whale had washed up on the beach a few days earlier, and the Oregon Department of Transportation was tasked with removing the foul-smelling carcass. Officials feared people might climb on the whale and potentially fall into it.

News anchor Paul Linnman reported on the scene for KATU, noting that the Oregon State Highway Department faced a “whale of a problem.” Assistant District Highway Engineer George Thornton decided to treat the whale like a boulder and blow it up.

The event was recorded in a TV segment that some later considered a hoax, but it was all too real. The explosion sent large chunks of whale flesh raining down on spectators and their cars.

Authorities chose to use half a ton of dynamite to dispose of the whale, consulting with U.S. Navy munitions experts beforehand. They positioned the explosives on the land side of the whale, hoping to send most of the debris out to sea and rely on scavengers to clean up the rest.

Reporter Paul Linnman initially hesitated to cover the story but changed his mind when he learned about the dynamite. After the explosion, huge pieces of whale blubber fell from the sky, with one chunk crushing a car.

No one was injured, but the incident left a lasting impression. The beach erupted in a 100-foot-high column of sand and whale, and spectators ran for cover. The incident embarrassed George Thornton for the rest of his life, though it became a viral sensation years later.

In 2020, Florence residents voted to name a park “Exploding Whale Memorial Park” in honor of the bizarre event.

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