“The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”
November 12, 2020 11:32 AM   Subscribe

50 years ago today, it was decided that half a ton of dynamite was the best tool to deal with the carcass of a Pacific Gray Whale that had washed up on the beaches of Florence, Oregon. The famous “exploding whale” news report from KATU has been remastered and put on YouTube in 4k. [previously]
posted by Kattullus (59 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
fire in the hole!
posted by clavdivs at 11:40 AM on November 12 [2 favorites]


Ah, this was a meme in the beforetimes, before there were memes. I remember reading about it in a Dave Barry book and looking around the internet for the very grainy video, which someone had ripped and uploaded. Before that, it used to circulate on VHS tapes with other random videos. Now there is a lost culture worth studying.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:40 AM on November 12 [25 favorites]


"Exploding Whale Memorial Park" was named last June in honor of this dubious event.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:46 AM on November 12 [11 favorites]


This is a classic. To the extent that I almost knew, word for word, what the newscaster was about to say. Oddly, I thought I recalled all the snark to have been a product of Dave Barry's relation of the event, but it was fully present in the original material.
posted by Horkus at 11:48 AM on November 12 [9 favorites]


I literally have “Exploding Whale Day (1970)” in one of my Mac/iOS calendars.
posted by bixfrankonis at 12:19 PM on November 12 [11 favorites]


It blowed up -- blowed up real good!
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:20 PM on November 12 [13 favorites]


Like a zillion other people, I got this video from somewhere on the internet in the 90s and watched it umpteen times. It's etched into my brain, shot by shot, word for word, in all its 320x240 pixelated glory.

What magic, to be able, 20 years later, to see the original footage in its full 16mm glory!

Fantastic work from the Oregon Historical Society and KATU for making this happen.
posted by automatronic at 12:21 PM on November 12 [11 favorites]


One of those videos that people would download for 10 hours on a BBS line just to watch 30 seconds of exploding whale. Uphill both ways to school, kids!
posted by benzenedream at 12:22 PM on November 12 [29 favorites]


"Land-blubber newsmen" is my new sockpuppet name.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:26 PM on November 12 [3 favorites]


Interestingly this incident was mentioned in Sandi Toksvig's recent YouTube video promoting her new book, Toksvig's Almanac 2021. The Almanac sets out to give much greater prominence to the role women played in history, and took its inspiration her wonderful VOX TOX series on YouTube. She mentions that history is full "[o]f boys being both brillant and foolish", but so little is known of what women actually did. So to this incident which is a perfect example of boys being foolish. She coyly mentions that, of course, George Fulton, the man in charge of the explosion, was promoted following the incident.
posted by vac2003 at 12:39 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


One of those videos that people would download for 10 hours on a BBS line just to watch 30 seconds of exploding whale.

Back when people could still dismiss you with a "nu uh" when you told them you watched a video from [sic] the internet of a dead whale on a beach getting blown up, as if anything like that ever actually happened, and if it did, that someone would digitize it and make it downloadable. Like who would go through all that trouble, and why?
posted by rhizome at 1:00 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


Needs an 'alliteration' tag for the title quote.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:01 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


As imperfect an alliteration as the plan itself!
posted by rhizome at 1:01 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


Downloaded over a 28.8 with my 100MHz Pentium Packard Bell. Probably 144p. Showed it to anyone who walked in my dorm room.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:09 PM on November 12 [7 favorites]


Maybe we could use this method to clear out the White House
posted by The otter lady at 1:13 PM on November 12 [9 favorites]


I was wondering if there are other techniques for disposing of a giant beached whale carcass, and there are several, including towing it back out to sea.
posted by swift at 1:16 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


I've always felt bad for the whale. Seems so undignified an end.
posted by Caxton1476 at 1:18 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


There is, of course, an entire website, which describes itself as "the world's most comprehensive source of information on exploding whales and related stories".

This week it links to a radio interview with Linnman for the 50th anniversary and lists some festivities.
posted by bixfrankonis at 1:19 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


I've always felt bad for the whale. Seems so undignified an end.

Nah anyone wants to use a half-ton of dynamite to blow my already-dead body to smithereens in public has got my blessing.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:20 PM on November 12 [35 favorites]


Previously: Obit thread for George Thornton, the engineer responsible for the explosion.
posted by ardgedee at 1:22 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


I've always felt bad for the whale.

The dead whale got to smash a car in.
posted by aniola at 1:38 PM on November 12 [21 favorites]


That would be the "Previously" linked at the end of the FPP?
posted by hanov3r at 1:53 PM on November 12


"but the reason why the grave-digger made music must have been because there was none in his spade"

-Melville
posted by clavdivs at 1:54 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


What a period piece! Of course nowadays there are forensic whale scientists that would at least want a moment to analyze it. Source: Nature-Whale Detective.
posted by childofTethys at 2:03 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


Is there a reason they couldn't have used a boat to tow the whale carcass back out into the Pacific from whence it came? Maybe with some assistance from bulldozers to get it as far as the waterline, and some fluorescent paint and flashing lights so as not to become a maritime hazard?

I mean, not that that would have been any more dignified of an exit, but it seems like it would have had a lot less potential for catastrophic mayhem.
posted by teraflop at 2:11 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


I remember when I first saw this being a little disappointed that dynamite was involved and that the whale didn't just blow up spontaneously.
posted by Fuchsoid at 2:22 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


Thanks. I hadn't heard of this.

It's a bit similar to another publicly viewed explosion that went awry, disco demolition night at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1979.
posted by philfromhavelock at 2:23 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.

...I'm Casey Kasem.
posted by The Tensor at 2:52 PM on November 12 [11 favorites]


Somehow, I had never seen this. I remember hearing about it, but never saw this video, so thanks!

I cannot even imagine the smell. Literally tons of rotting meat vaporized and sent flying in an enormous cloud. Staggering.
posted by SoberHighland at 2:53 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


I remember when I first saw this being a little disappointed that dynamite was involved and that the whale didn't just blow up spontaneously.

Have I got a video for you.
posted by The Tensor at 2:56 PM on November 12 [12 favorites]


I had recently moved to Portland in the late 90s when some of my coworkers uncovered this footage from somewhere and we watched in awe as the DOT attempted to deal with the whale. (Fun fact: all Oregon beaches are publicly accessible thanks to the Beach Bill.)

It's good to see people rediscover this story.

Podcast episodes about it:
* Kickass Oregon History Vol 5, #9: A Child's Christmas in (Exploding) Whales
* The Dollop #227: Whalesplosion
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:18 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


Tugboat and a cable too simple?
posted by HyperBlue at 3:25 PM on November 12


"Exploding Whale Memorial Park" was named last June in honor of this dubious event.

The Florence Chamber of Commerce is really dropping the ball not having EWMP t-shirts for sale. I would so rock an official "Exploding Whale Memorial Park" tee!
posted by Thorzdad at 3:37 PM on November 12 [3 favorites]


One of my uni lecturers used this as a hook, I forget what systems analysis and design principle he was illustrating with it!

I used this clip to illustrate TV news reporting for my Year 7 English classes. One of my colleagues used to make sure she was observing that day!
posted by freethefeet at 3:45 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


With God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.


(I understand the humor and also feel sadness about this so I'm a conflicted killjoy with jokes.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:00 PM on November 12 [5 favorites]


Gah, I was in Florence two years and knew about this thanks to the previously, but didn't realize that's where it happened. Missed marketing opportunity, there.
posted by mollweide at 4:18 PM on November 12


Turkeys (and whales) can fly, with enough dynamite.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:18 PM on November 12 [6 favorites]


This was my favorite headline for this story: Everyone remembers Paul Linnman as ‘guy who blew up that whale.’ The Portland TV news veteran is OK with that

“As I moved steadily toward the whale, I looked around and made some observations,” he recalls of arriving on the scene. “A reporter likes to appear as if he or she knows what’s going on, so I tried to act nonchalant, like I had attended several mammal bombings.”
posted by ActingTheGoat at 4:39 PM on November 12 [19 favorites]


Before that, it used to circulate on VHS tapes with other random videos. Now there is a lost culture worth studying.

Woah maann, those freaky late 80s/90s VHS comp mix-tapes that were shared around by jaded-hipsters in those cool/funky college-town video rental places are core-samples of SubGenius-adjacent alternate-realities...
posted by ovvl at 4:54 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


Have a beer or joint or whatever and listen to the Whalesplosion episode of the Dollop. You will laugh a lot.
posted by thenormshow at 5:53 PM on November 12


One of those videos that people would download for 10 hours on a BBS line just to watch 30 seconds of exploding whale. Uphill both ways to school, kids!

I just literally spent all day downloading this 2GB video (at 100 kBytes/sec!) from OHS's servers so I could watch it at full quality. 1998's back, baby!
posted by neckro23 at 6:21 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


“As I moved steadily toward the whale, I looked around and made some observations,” he recalls of arriving on the scene. “A reporter likes to appear as if he or she knows what’s going on, so I tried to act nonchalant, like I had attended several mammal bombings.”

"I tell you he was ten stories high if he was a foot."
posted by rhizome at 6:26 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


The problem here is that they didn't use enough explosives. A mere half-ton of dynamite? Cowards.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:24 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


For a second there I thought the title of this was a quote from Chapter 2 of Walter Abishʻs Alphabetical Africa, but dingdangit, the The gave it away.
posted by Droll Lord at 7:27 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


And I mean on the one hand dragging it out to sea is going to be pretty hard (as it is the very definition of a mumpty-ton anchor), pushing it off with bulldozers of the time wasn't going to happen (aww wookit dat cute widdle caterpillar) - what would we do now? I assume it washed up higher than normal high tide, so you couldn't even just let the tides deal with it. Is this a "we know better now, we use shaped charges / we spread out the explosives / we backfill the explosives with sand to balance it out better" sort of thing or is it still most likely a charlie foxtrot and everybody hangs back further so they don't get bombed by blubber?

Or do the coastal residents just get to suck it up, they were the ones who decides to live by the sea all full of interesting creatures and smells?
posted by Kyol at 8:11 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


¿Porque no los dos? Use carefully-placed/backfilled explosives to give the carcass a hell of a start on the dragged-out-to-sea process. Bang, whoosh, spash!
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:23 PM on November 12


OR - rig up a giant trebuchet, see, and...
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:24 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


That appears to be a sperm whale. I assure you I'm not trying to make a crude joke.
posted by jamaro at 9:28 PM on November 12


I used to enjoy this video but now I'm stunned by the realization that clips from a half-century ago can be in colour
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:23 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


It's posts like this one that ensure that, no matter how far and fast I wander away in an age-induced fog of confusion and bewilderment, I will always return to this scepter'd isle, this other Eden, this metafilter.
posted by Chitownfats at 11:31 PM on November 12 [3 favorites]


I have never, never understood why that highway crew didn't use their bulldozer to cover the whale and their explosives with at least twenty whales' worth of sand before setting them off.
posted by flabdablet at 2:45 AM on November 13


Kyol, the Cat D9 was introduced in the 1950s. They would have been many of them in Oregon to support logging and road building alone. If they had wanted to get a big dozer to push the whale around, they could have, but they wanted to blow stuff up.
posted by rockindata at 4:36 AM on November 13 [2 favorites]


Given that 1000 pounds of dynamite is a LOT of explosive, I've always thought the crew was basically fucking around because why not? How often do you get the chance to blow up a whale?

They're piling explosive wherever it's convenient, not putting dunno the right word but pushing plates between the explosive and the whale, not putting any shrapnel or casing in to shred the whale, not putting sand or blasting blankets on top of it.

I mean, if they really used 1000 pounds of dynamite, that's the explosive charge of about six high-explosive shells from an Iowa class's main battery. Which I would have to guess would disintegrate the whale, and the beach, and the crowd gathered to watch the explosion.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:16 AM on November 13 [3 favorites]


I used to enjoy this video but now I'm stunned by the realization that clips from a half-century ago can be in colour


Old films WERE in color. It's the world that was in black and white.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:27 AM on November 13 [9 favorites]


GCU:
The search term you’re looking for (and my favorite name for a hypothetical death metal band) is Misznay-Schardin effect, although the physics that applies to shaped charges is generally more applicable to sheets of moldable explosives than dynamite sticks.

Basically: for any sheet of explosives the majority of the force is directed outward along the surface normals above/below the plane. If one side of the sheet rests against a solid piece of metal then much, much more of the force goes directly outward along the surface normal opposite the metal backing. IIRC, Claymore landmines are basically Metal Plate->C4->200 9mm ball bearings suspended in cheap plastic.

Best guess as to how you’d apply it here, totally talking out my ass, is take three old bulldozer blades, cover the interior surface with dynamite sticks two layers deep, and then push them up against the side of the whale carcass nice and snug, facing as close to oceanward as the corpse’s orientation allows. I dunno if that would actually have made enough of a difference to be effective, but there’d be a shit-ton less rotten meat chunk rain in the aftermath.
posted by Ryvar at 7:35 AM on November 13


Have I got a video for you.
posted by The Tensor at 5:56 PM on November 12


This should seem given, but this video needs an absolutely enormous trigger warning for blood and gore and viscera (way more pixels and up close)
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:27 AM on November 13


six high-explosive shells from an Iowa class's main battery

Congratulations on finding an even awesomer way to eliminate a whale carcass.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:07 PM on November 13 [5 favorites]


> Maybe we could use this method to clear out the White House

Staffer: "Does it seem like more and more of the Secret Service are calling in sick, or is it just me?"
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:38 PM on November 13 [1 favorite]


I posted the previously. This showed up on Twitter, and I am delighted to see it here, so, thanks. The supporting links in comments are a great addition. Reporter Paul Linnman was masterful; this is one of the funniest videos ever. The exploding whale video completely justifies the existence of the Internet. Haven't even re-watched yet, already laughing
wikipedia
Dave Berry piece
posted by theora55 at 1:58 AM on November 14 [1 favorite]


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