Whales are among the most majestic creatures on our planet. They’re enormous and intelligent mammals, capable of astounding feats of communication. They live their lives in an aquatic world whose mysteries we can still only glimpse in part. They’re extraordinary, fascinating beings.
And, as a news report aired 50 years ago today demonstrates, they also blow up real good.
On November 12, 1970, the good people of Florence, Oregon came together to address the issue of a beached grey whale that was apparently too big to be removed with any method other than dynamite explosion. According to a 1990 Washington Post article, the whale was 45 feet long and weighed eight tons. “The responsibility for getting rid of the carcass was placed upon the Oregon State Highway Division,” the article reads, “apparently on the theory that highways and whales are very similar in the sense of being very large objects.”
With all the enthusiasm of a group of horrible kids burning ants with magnifying glasses and strapping firecrackers to frogs, the Highway Division placed 20 cases of dynamite around the dead animal. The local KATU News, along with a bunch of people excited to witness a rare combination of whale-watching and fireworks, was there to witness what came next.
After a countdown finishes, the whale explodes into a wall of mist. Those watching cry out in happy excitement before the mood turns. “Our cameras stopped rolling immediately after the blast,” anchor Paul Linnman says. “The humor of the entire situation suddenly gave way to a run for survival as huge chunks of whale blubber fell everywhere.” We then see footage of parked cars covered in festering corpse-fat, some of their roofs dented from the impact. After all of this, we’re told that the remaining whale pieces were too big (or too stinky) for seagulls to come eat them as planned. The highway crew is shown burying evidence of their terrible plan over narration by Linnman, who calls the whole event an example of “what not to do” with a beached whale.
“The sand dunes [nearby] were covered with spectators and landlubber newsman shortly to become landblubber newsman for the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds,” Linnmann says in a fantastic deadpan earlier in the clip, showing that KATU seemed to know exactly how ridiculous a moment they had on their hands, even half a century ago.
Mike Baker shared a remastered version of the segment, each confused Highway Division worker and flying whale chunk lovingly transferred to 4K by KATU News and the Oregon Historical Society. Watch it here in celebration of this proud moment in American history.
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