Mother nature does a pretty good job of cleaning up challenging messes such as dead whales washing up on shore. People, however, know how to really make a mess of things…
At one point, several countries considered it appropriate to remove dead beached whales using explosives. This process could work fairly well, when one first drags the carcass out to sea, and then blows it up.
But there are hazards…
What if it floated back to shore? Iceland unsuccessfully tried this to find an even worse smelling carcass floating back to shore.
Some might try to bury a smaller whale in the sand. But the ocean could easily unbury it like many wrecks along the Pacific shore.
Burying an 8-ton, 45-foot whale would not be an easy task. Just finding equipment to do it would be nigh impossible and incredibly expensive.
Florence, Oregon learned this lesson on November 12, 1970. A dead 45-foot, 8-ton sperm whale carcass washed on shore a few days prior. It was already stinky.
The rotting smell would undoubtedly been a strong motivator for getting things cleaned up quickly. But there were fears that some curious sort might want to explore the carcass and maybe fall in… this is after all Oregon.
What to do? To big to bury or tow out.
I know. Let’s blow it up!
Blowing the carcass into small pieces would benefit the wildlife like crabs and gulls who could, of course, clean things up very quickly. As it turns out, several countries at that time often disposed of whale carcasses using explosives.
Usually, they tow it out to sea first.
The thought was that the critters would do the clean-up probably seemed like a rational idea, especially with tidbits conveniently served in bite-size pieces. You can just here the debate.
‘Gee, do you think that 20 cases of explosives will be enough to create small pieces?” “What if 20 is not enough?” “You going to plant these bombs, or get some volunteers?”
And so, the explosives were placed in the whale with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas would soon clear the air.
Ah No. This was no fairy tale.
Without a count down for the explosion the hundred-foot geyser of putrid whale and sand was quite a surprise. Tiny particles of blubber did float down, but the large pieces came first.
Fortunately, no spectators were seriously hurt, but a large blop of bubber did damage a car nearly a quarter mile away. “It was like a blubber snowstorm.”
But everything and everyone stank. For days.
Oh yea, as far as the birds cleaning it up? With that many cases of explosives and the noise it would make, there probably were no birds in town for a year.
The story lives on and just this summer (2020, during Rhododendron Days), the explosive event was memorialized with a plaque at a new seaside garden (the “Exploding Whale Memorial Park” of course) in Florence, Oregon. Fortunately, the smell is long gone.
The fun is still there
Locals are celebrating the anniversary by dressing as various whale parts and running around the beach to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the incident.
This little wayside may be just the spot to enjoy the views and tell a whale of a tale that once happened on this very beach…
–Public Works Introduces New Park (https://www.ci.florence.or.us/publicworks/public-works-introduces-new-park)
–Florence, Oregon Whale Explosion History (https://www.opb.org/artsandlife/series/history/florence-oregon-whale-explosion-history/
–Oregon Encyclopedia, Florence Whale Explosion (https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/florence_whale_explosion/#.X1E_9eeSmUk)
–Mental Floss, Florence Oregon Exploding Whale 1970 (https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/625499/florence-oregon-exploding-whale-1970)