Annotated transcript of the video
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If for some reason you're unable to view the full video, we thought you might appreciate being able to read the news report. So, we went ahead and transcribed the three and a half minute video and then annotated it with images of the key scenes. Of course, the transcription and images can’t compete with the original video, but maybe they can give you a little taste of what you’re missing. Enjoy!
Report by: Paul Linnman of KATU (Portland, OR)
Film by: Doug Brazil
Date: November 12, 1970
Transcribed by: Steve Hackstadt
Linnman: It had to be said, the Oregon State Highway Division not only had a whale of a problem on its hands, it had a stinking whale of a problem: what to do with one 45-foot, 8-ton whale, dead on arrival, on a beach near Florence.
It had been so long since a whale had washed up in Lane County, nobody could remember how to get rid of one. In selecting its battle plan, the highway division decided the carcass couldn’t be buried because it might soon be uncovered. It couldn’t be cut up and then buried because nobody wanted to cut it up. And it couldn’t be burned. So, dynamite it was — some twenty cases, or a half-ton of it.
The hope was that the long-dead Pacific gray whale1 would be almost disintegrated by the blast, and that any small pieces still around after the explosion would be taken care of by seagulls and other scavengers. Indeed, the seagulls had been standing nearby all day.
As everything was being made ready, we asked George Thornton, the highway engineer in charge of the project, for his final observations.
CUTS TO INTERVIEW
Thornton: Well, I’m confident that it’ll work. The only thing is we’re not sure just exactly how much, uh, explosives it’ll take to disintegrate this… thing, so the scavengers, seagulls, and crabs and what-not can clean it up.
Linnman: Is there any chance it might be more than a one day job?
Thornton: Uh, if there’s any large chunks left, and, uh… we may have to do some other clean-up, possibly set another charge.
RETURNS TO NARRATIVE
Linnman: The dynamite was buried primarily on the leeward side of the big mammal so as most of the remains would be blown toward the sea. About seventy-five bystanders, most of them residents who had first found the whale to be an object of curiosity before they tired of its smell, were moved back a quarter of a mile away. The sand dunes there were covered with spectators and landlubber newsmen, shortly to become land-blubber newsmen. For the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.
FOOTAGE OF EXPLOSION
At this point, spectators are heard ooh-ing and ahh-ing immediately following the explosion. One mother tells her child he can take his hands out of his ears. Soon, the splattering sound of blubber chunks falling to the ground can be heard. A woman calmly observes, “Here come pieces of… uh, whale.”
RETURNS TO NARRATIVE
Linnman: Our cameras stopped rolling immediately after the blast. The humor of the entire situation suddenly gave way to a run for survival as huge chunks of whale blubber fell everywhere. Pieces of meat passed high over our heads, while others were falling at our feet. The dunes were rapidly evacuated as spectators escaped both the falling debris and the overwhelming smell.
A parked car over a quarter of a mile from the blast site was the target of one large chunk, the passenger compartment literally smashed. Fortunately, no human was hit as badly as the car. However, everyone on the scene was covered with small particles of dead whale.
As for the success of the effort… Well, the seagulls who were supposed to clean things up were no where in sight, either scared away by the explosion or kept away by the smell. That didn’t really matter. The remaining chunks were of such a size that no respectable seagull would attempt to tackle anyway. As darkness began to set in, the highway crews were back on the beach burying the remains, including a large piece of the carcass which never left the blast site.
It might be concluded that should a whale ever wash ashore in Lane County again, those in charge will not only remember what to do, they’ll certainly remember what not to do.
It was actually a sperm whale. While originally reported to be a Pacific gray whale, Linnman later corrected himself in his 2003 book The Exploding Whale and Other Remarkable Stories from the Evening News after consulting with renowned marine biologist Dr. Bruce Mate, who was actually on the beach the day they blew up the whale.