40th anniversary articles & videos
About this page...
The following articles are a sample of those written on the 40th anniversary of the Exploding Whale. The articles and associated videos appeared on various Oregon news websites on or around November 12, 2010.
Dynamite idea 40 years ago blew up into a whale of a story (KVAL)
FLORENCE, Ore. – How do you get a 45-foot, 8-ton whale off the beach?
“The Oregon state highway department not only had a whale of a problem on its hands – it had a stinking whale of a problem.,” reporter Paul Linnman said in archived footage from KATU News in Portland.
Officials finally decided to deal with the whale in the same way they would a boulder: blow it up.
“Dynamite it was, some 20 cases or a half ton of it,” Linnman reported. “The hope was that the long-dead Pacific gray whale would be almost disintegrated by the blast.”
That’s not exactly what happened.
As the camera rolled, the dynamite went off – and bits of blubber rained down all over the beach and curious bystanders.
A large chunk crushed a car.
And in the final analysis, officials spent days burying all of the blubber on the beach. Decades later, burying beached whales is common practice – a practice born that day in November 1970.
“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,” Linnman reported at the time, “they’ll certainly remember what not to do.”
‘We almost didn’t get it on air’ (KATU)
PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s the story and video many people just can’t get enough of – the famous exploding whale on the Oregon coast. But did you know the story almost didn’t make air?
On Nov. 12, 1970, a dead whale was blown to pieces on a beach in Florence, Ore. The story made Paul Linnman, a young journalist for KATU News, a part of history.
“I had a columnist ask me this week if the exploding whale didn’t define my career,” Linnman said. “I hope not.”
When asked why he thinks the story has resonated with people over the years, Linnman simply said “it’s just so doggone weird.”
Today, Linnman (pictured at right) is a radio host at 1190 KEX but back then he was 23 years old and just beginning to build his reputation as a hard-hitting journalist.
“I was getting good assignments and so when they asked me to go to Florence to cover the disposal of a whale, I went ‘Whoa, wait a minute – I’m boy wonder here. I do bigger stories. Send somebody else,'” he said. “Then they said they were going to use dynamite and I said ‘OK, let’s go.'”
The plan was to explode the whale into tiny pieces that seagulls would eat. But as Linnman and former KATU Photojournalist Doug Brazil found out, the pieces were not exactly bite-sized. The two had to run to escape the flying blubber. It was so big that some of it flattened a car.
“It came down as this oil rain on your jacket,” Brazil said. “It was horrible, and the smell – it was just sickening.”
Linnman said he “can still conjure it up 40 years later. If I think about it, I can still smell that smell.”
However, that wasn’t the worst part of their day.
“We almost didn’t get it on air,” Linnman said. “It was late at night, we were unloading the gear from the news car and realized the main piece of film was not there.”
“We both thought the other one had picked up the film and, son of a gun, it got left in the trunk,” said Brazil (pictured at right). You see, the two had flown to Florence in a plane and borrowed a car when they got there. Then they had flown back and accidentally left the film in the car.
With the incredible piece of film missing, the two had a boss who was not at all pleased.
“He said ‘Gentlemen, I don’t know [or] care how you do this,” Linnman said. “I’m not going to rent you another plane but that film will be on Channel 2 tomorrow.”
So how did they get it back? The son of the car’s owner happened to be heading to Portland and they convinced him to make the drive in the middle of the night.
And the rest is history.
40th Anniversary of Oregon Coast Exploding Whale Film Clip (BeachConnection.net)
(Florence, Oregon) – It was 40 years ago today a legend was born: one that is arguably the most watched video clip on the Internet.
The Internet – and much of Oregon media – has been abuzz today with cries of “Happy Exploding Whale Day.” The infamous incident first popularized by columnist Dave Barry, and then by a flood of Internet attention, happened 40 years ago in this state, on this coast.
It was the days of long hair, rock music still being regarded with suspicion, and it was way before the Internet or even cell phones. Indeed, color TV’s were still rather new. On November 12, 1970, the Oregon Highway Department (later to become ODOT), took well-meaning but radical steps to rid a Florence beach of a whale that had washed up, and it was beginning to get disgustingly ripe.
The central Oregon coast was, quite literally, about to get rocked.
The Highway Department’s George Thornton, an engineer, was in charge of a new approach to this whale of a problem: blow it up with dynamite. The point was to blow it into thousands of tiny pieces that would then be eaten by seagulls. It was also intended these pieces be shot towards the ocean.
But it didn’t quite turn out that way.
Meanwhile, a large crowd gathered along the bluff overlooking this beach, just south of the Siuslaw River.
Then 23-year-old Paul Linnman, a reporter for KATU channel 2 news in Portland, was on the scene, getting filmed by cameraman Paul Brazil. Their encapsulation of the event has become perhaps the most viewed film clip ever.
Linnman and Brazil show a bit of the preparation and a quick interview with Thornton, as well as a shot of the many spectators. A countdown is shown, and then the creature explodes in an upward rush of pink and red gore, estimated to have risen to 100 feet.
At first there are oo’s and aww’s as people are impressed. Linnman points out on camera, in one of the more famous instances of alliteration: “The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”
The sounds of being impressed turn to some amount of panic, and the camera actually catches the sound of falling chunks of whale plopping everywhere.
According to the article from the Eugene Register-Guard at the time, large pieces hit first. One chunk of three feet in length caved in the top of a Springfield man’s car.
Shortly after, thousands and thousands of smaller pieces fell, sometimes in an oily mist, according to Brazil.
The smell? It was now worse, and it was everywhere. It was all over the cars. It was all over the spectators.
Linnman, interviewed tonight by KATU-TV, describes a disgusting pink coating on himself and Brazil.
People ran to their cars and fled.
The Springfield man was paid for the value of his car by the state 11 days later. After that, this incident was largely forgotten, until 20 years later.
The tale was then made famous by humorist Dave Barry in the 90’s. Shortly after, or perhaps almost immediately, the film clip hit the Net and has been circulating wildly ever since. KATU estimates it has received 400 million views in its lifetime.
In 2000, the Eugene Register-Guard did a 30-year retrospective on the event. Thornton, by then retired, had still not spoken to the press to that day.
On the infamous day, Thornton told the press the big problem was the blast funneled a hole beneath the whale.
This method of blowing up a whale to get rid of it was never tried again. Now, Oregon State Parks takes care of such issues and buries whale carcasses deep in the sand. Much was learned from that day – like to never do it again.
Interestingly enough, this film clip was almost lost completely and quite possibly might have never been seen. In the KATU interview on Friday night, Linnman said in the post-blast panic, the film was left in the trunk of someone else’s car. The pair flew back to Portland without it (these were the days before live feeds, after all).
Linnman told KATU the news director at the time was quite firm about the issue: the film would make it back to the studios in time to run in the next day’s newscast. Linnman and Brazil managed to convince the man who’s car contained the film can to drive to Portland in the middle of the night.
The 40th anniversary of the funniest thing to ever happen in Oregon, and the lessons learned (Statesman Journal)
K. Williams Brown
A little more than 40 years ago – Nov. 12, 1970, to be exact – reporter Paul Linnman and cameraman Doug Brazil flew from Portland to Florence aboard a small airplane. They did not know that history was waiting for them at the coast.
“In fairness, everything I’ve heard about what happened since that day, especially from the U.S. Navy, is that it should have worked,” said Linnman, a veteran broadcaster who now works for 1190 KEX.
Instead, things went terribly, hilariously awry, and before the day was through, both reporter and cameraman were covered in a fine mist of whale parts.
Yes. It’s been 40 years since the Great Exploding Whale.
Almost everyone knows this story, but just in case you don’t, a reminder.
In November 1970, an 8-ton dead sperm whale washed up on the beach in Florence. After several days, the smell was becoming unbearable. The Oregon Highway Division, which was in charge of disposal, decided to use a half-ton of dynamite on it; the theory was that it would blow up into tiny pieces at which point the seagulls would eat all the rotting whale bits.
If there is one thing seagulls can’t get enough of, it’s recently exploded decaying whale.
So a bunch of people gathered to watch the explosion, and Linnman and Brazil were on hand to bring this important story back to the people of Portland for KATU.
“The smell was so fantastically bad, even before the event,” Linnman said. “I can still conjure up the smell.”
In the video, you see the red and brown explosion – “the red is blood and blubber and whale oil,” Linnman explained – and at first, the spectators are delighted. Then a hard whale part rain starts falling all around them.
Before we get to Linnman’s side of the story, let me make something clear: Paul Linnman is not the one who keeps talking about the whale, and he’s somewhat annoyed that it always resurfaces.
“I worked for organizations over the years that demanded I do something every year and on the important anniversaries and stuff – people always thought it was me,” Linnman said. “My friends would say, ‘When are you going to shut up about the whale?'”
In short, Linnman is not resting on his exploding whale laurels. It is us, by which I mean me, that cannot get enough of this story.
The video has been viewed millions of times on YouTube, and no less an expert than Dave Barry declared it the “most wonderful event in the history of the universe.”
But the day of? It wasn’t funny at all, Linnman said. It was terrifying.
“We see the explosion which, yeah, that’s what an explosion should look like,” Linnman said. “But it was the sounds that were happening around us that made us realize what was happening.”
Remember, these parts had been flung thousands of feet in the air and were coming down hard.
As Linnman and Brazil were running, they heard a second explosion. It was the sound of a blubber chunk “about the size of a good-sized coffee table” crushing a car. But although he was frightened, Linnman was focused on getting the story.
“There comes a point where you put your own personal reactions aside, and your goal is to get your product out, and that’s all you can think about,” he said.
So why does he think this story lived on? What is it, exactly, about an exploding whale that is so funny?
“Nobody expects this,” Linnman said. “We don’t blow up whales; we save them… and what happened as a result? Someone got his car smashed.”
However, on that day, Linnman had no idea what was coming, no idea that he was about to witness something that 40 years later, people would still bring up to him weekly. Though it’s a fate better than the sperm whale’s, famous only in death and resting in thousands of icky pieces.
But that’s how history happens, I suppose. Right now, someone somewhere is hatching a terrible plan that seems like a good idea right now, but in 40 years we will see as folly.
Courthouse Square, super expensive downtown condos, the “Mission Accomplished” banner – at the time, reasonable people looked at these and said, “Yes, let’s do that. How much dynamite do we need?” And the proverbial whale parts are still falling.
And so I propose that we officially commemorate this event with Exploding Whale Day, to be celebrated each Nov. 12, where we acknowledge all the bad plans we enacted over the past year, in the hopes of avoiding our own exploding whales for the next 364 days.
K. Williams Brown is the entertainment reporter for the Statesman Journal. She can only dream of covering such a story.