"The Exploding Whale remastered..."

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The following article and accompanying videos were published by KATU to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Oregon's exploding whale. KATU is the Portland, OR, television station on which the original exploding whale news story aired.

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The Exploding Whale remastered: 50th anniversary of legendary Oregon event

Wednesday, November 11th 2020

FLORENCE, Ore - On Nov. 9, 1970, a 45-foot sperm whale had washed up on the beach near Florence, but as KATU reporter Paul Linnman noted at the time, it later became "a stinking whale of a problem."

Three days later, on Nov. 12, the dead whale exploded into history with what has been described as the first-ever viral news story.

Watch the special remastered version of the original Exploding Whale report below:

The Oregon Historical Society recently had the original 16mm footage that Doug Brazil filmed that day with Paul Linnman converted to 4K resolution. "Linnman and Brazil captured the original unedited footage on 16mm color reversal motion picture film. They recorded the audio track live, on location, on a magnetic stripe directly on the film using an attached microphone," Matthew Cowan, the OHS archivist for photography and moving images said. "As opposed to the degradation that happens with video tape from making a copy of a copy of a copy, the original 16mm film — what was shot that day on the beach — still projects a crisp image with bright vibrant colors." (OHS)

Now, 50 years later, we sat down with the reporting team to talk about that historic day, as they remember covering the disposal of a beached whale near Florence and then the notoriety that followed.

“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.”

Video coming soon....

Doug Brazil talks about the exploding whale story’s explosive popularity. (KATU)

The normal protocol now is to bury the whale, although Oregon State University marine scientists elected to strip the 4-inch blubber from the whale and begin the process of preparing the skeleton for display in Newport at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

The decision to blow up the whale came from the Oregon Department of Transportation and George Thornton. According to Linnman, Thornton had consulted with the United State Navy, which had done things like this in the past. The general consensus from all involved after the explosion was that not enough dynamite was used.

Video coming soon....

Paul Linnman talk about the ODOT engineer who was responsible for the explosion, and why he didn’t want to embarrass the poor guy. (KATU)

"So dynamite it was, some 20 cases or a half ton of it," he said. "The hope was that the long-dead pacific gray whale would be almost disintegrated by the blast."

The plan was to obliterate the whale into tiny pieces that seagulls would eat. As Linnman and former KATU Photojournalist Doug Brazil found out, the pieces were not exactly bite-sized.

Video coming soon....

Paul Linnman talks about the moment whale chunks started falling from the sky, and how lucky everyone was that they weren’t killed. (KATU)

Boom.

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

Video coming soon....

Doug Brazil tells an ironic story about owner of the smashed car, and his connection with explosives. (KATU)

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.

Video coming soon....

The exploding whale story was nearly lost! Doug Brazil talks about getting back to Portland and realizing they’d left the original film in a rental car in Florence! (KATU)

In his now infamous report, Linnman signed off with these words:

It might be concluded that should a whale ever was ashore in Lane County again, those in charge will not only remember what to do, they'll certainly remember what not to do.

BONUS: To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Exploding Whale, KATU and the Oregon Historical Society released a digitally remastered 4K version of the original report. Doug Brazil talks about how the change can make such a big difference:

Video coming soon....

Photographer Doug Brazil talks about why the first copy of the Exploding Whale posted online was such poor quality, and how much better the 4K transfer is by comparison. (KATU)

In addition to the video, OHS is holding a virtual program with Linnman, hosted by OHS Executive Director Kerry Tymchuk, on Thursday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. on Zoom. It's free and you can register here.

(A recording of the event is now available on YouTube.)

Years later, the Exploding Whale's popularity really 'blew up' after humor columnist Dave Barry wrote about it in the early 1990s. KATU's Angelica Thornton interviewed him for the 50th anniversary:

Humor columnist Dave Barry talks about his role in the history of Oregon's infamous exploding whale saga.
Original article: katu.com © 2020 KATU