Exploding whale: Wikis


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Dynamite was used to blow up a rotting beached whale, with unintended consequences.

Exploding whale most often refers to an event at Florence, Oregon, in 1970, when a dead sperm whale (originally reported to be a gray whale) was blown up by the Oregon Highway Division in an attempt to dispose of its rotting carcass.The explosion threw guts and innards over 800ft (up to 250m) away. This incident became famous in the U.S. when American humorist Dave Barry wrote about it in his newspaper column after viewing a videotape of television footage of the explosion. It later became well-known internationally when the same footage circulated on the Internet.

There have also been spontaneous explosions. The most widely reported example was in Taiwan in 2004, when the buildup of gas inside a decomposing sperm whale caused it to explode in a crowded urban area, while being transported for a post-mortem examination. Other exploding whales have been written about and documented by several well-known authors.

Documented cases of exploding animals are fairly rare. The whale explosions in the United States and Taiwan were widely covered by the world press. However, there have been less famous incidents in other parts of the world.



The Oregon Highway Division failed to dispose of this whale carcass properly when they blew it up with half a ton of dynamite.

The event

On November 12, 1970, a 14 m (45 ft 11 in), eight-ton sperm whale died as a result of beaching itself near Florence, Oregon.[1] All Oregon beaches are under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department,[2], but responsibility for disposing of the carcass fell upon a sister agency, the Oregon Highway Division (now known as the Oregon Department of Transportation, or ODOT).[3] After consulting with officials from the United States Navy, they decided that it would be best to remove the whale as they would remove a boulder. They thought burying the whale would be ineffective, as it would soon be uncovered, and believed the dynamite would disintegrate the whale into pieces small enough for scavengers to clear up.

Thus, half a ton of dynamite was applied to the carcass. The engineer in charge of the operation, George Thornton, stated his fear that one set of charges might not be enough, and more might be needed. (Thornton later explained that he was chosen to remove the whale because the district engineer, Dale Allen, had gone hunting[4][5]).

The resulting explosion was caught on film by cameraman Doug Brazil for a story reported by news reporter Paul Linnman of KATU-TV in Portland, Oregon. In his voiceover, Linnman alliteratively joked that "land-lubber newsmen" became "land-blubber newsmen ... for the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds."[4] The explosion caused large pieces of blubber to land near buildings and in parking lots some distance away from the beach, one of which caused severe damage to a parked car. Only some of the whale was disintegrated; most of it remained on the beach for the Oregon Highway Division workers to clear away.

Ending his story, Linnman noted that "It might be concluded that, should a whale ever be washed ashore in Lane County again, those in charge will not only remember what to do, they'll certainly remember what not to do." When 41 sperm whales beached nearby in 1979, state parks officials burned and buried them.[6] Currently, Oregon State Parks Department policy is to bury whale carcasses where they land. If the sand is not deep enough, they are relocated to another beach.[7]

The story resurfaces

For several years, the story of the exploding whale was commonly disbelieved as an urban legend. However, it was brought to widespread public attention by popular writer Dave Barry in his Miami Herald column of May 20, 1990, when he reported that he possessed footage of the event. Barry wrote, "Here at the Institute we watch it often, especially at parties." Some time later, the Oregon State Highway division started to receive calls from the media after a shortened version of the article was distributed on bulletin boards under the title "The Farside Comes To Life In Oregon". The unattributed copy of Barry's article did not explain that the event had happened approximately twenty-five years earlier. Barry later said that, on a fairly regular basis, someone would forward him the "authorless" column and suggest he write something about the described incident.[8] As a result of these omissions, an article in the ODOT's TranScript notes that,

"We started getting calls from curious reporters across the country right after the electronic bulletin board story appeared," said Ed Schoaps, public affairs coordinator for the Oregon Department of Transportation. "They thought the whale had washed ashore recently, and were hot on the trail of a governmental blubber flub-up. They were disappointed that the story has twenty five years of dust on it."

Schoaps has fielded calls from reporters and the just plain curious in Oregon, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts. The Wall Street Journal called, and Washington, D.C.-based Governing magazine covered the immortal legend of the beached whale in its June issue. And the phone keeps ringing. "I get regular calls about this story," Schoaps said. His phone has become the blubber hotline for ODOT, he added. "It amazes me that people are still calling about this story after nearly twenty five years."[5]

The footage that was referred to in the article, of the KATU news story reported by Paul Linnman, resurfaced later as a video file on several websites, becoming a well-known and popular Internet meme.[9] (These websites attracted criticism from upset people who complained that they were making fun of acts of animal cruelty, even though the whale was already dead. These critical emails were subsequently published by the bemused site webmasters).[10]

The story of Oregon's exploding whale was widely known on Usenet, and was in particular discussed on alt.folklore.urban, a newsgroup devoted to urban legends. The incident, including a complete copy of Barry's article, was recorded in the newsgroup's 1991 FAQ, then maintained by Peter van der Linden, where it was marked as "Tb" (believed true, but not conclusively proven).[11] In 1992, after an alt.folklore.urban regular known as "snopes" investigated, the newsgroup received confirmation that it was a true story.[12] A 2006 study found that the video had been viewed 350 million times across various websites.[13]

Tainan City, Taiwan

Another well-known explosion occurred on January 26, 2004, in Tainan City, Taiwan, this time from a more natural cause: the buildup of gas inside a decomposing sperm whale caused it to burst. The explosion was initially mysterious, since it unexpectedly occurred in the spine of the whale. It was later determined that the whale had likely been struck by a large shipping vessel, damaging its spine, and leading to its death. The whale had died after beaching on the southwestern coast of Taiwan, and it had taken three large cranes and 50 workers more than 13 hours to shift the beached sperm whale onto the back of a truck.

Taiwan News reported that, while the whale was being moved, "... a large crowd of more than 600 local Yunlin residents and curiosity seekers, along with vendors selling snack food and hot drinks, braved the cold temperature and chilly wind to watch workmen try to haul away the dead marine leviathan".[14] Professor Wang Chien-ping had ordered the whale be moved to the Sutsao Wild Life Reservation Area after he had been refused permission to perform a necropsy at the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan. When it exploded, the whale was on the back of a truck near the center of Tainan, en route from the university laboratory to the preserve.

The bursting whale splattered blood and whale entrails over surrounding shop-fronts, bystanders, and cars. BBC News Online interviewed an unnamed Taiwanese local who said, "What a stinking mess. This blood and other stuff that blew out on the road is disgusting, and the smell is really awful."[15] The explosion did not, however, prevent researchers from performing a necropsy on the animal.

Over the course of about one year, Wang completed a bone display from the remains of the whale. The assembled specimen and some preserved organs and tissues have been on display in the Taijiang Cetacean Museum since April 8, 2005.


A stranded whale in Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, also decayed until it exploded. Locals reported that its blubber "hung in the trees for weeks."[16]

Whale corpses are regularly disposed of using explosives; however, the whales are usually first towed out to sea. Government-sanctioned explosions have occurred in both South Africa and Iceland.

A number of controlled explosions have been made in South Africa. Explosives were used to kill a beached humpback whale 40 km (24 miles) west of Port Elizabeth on August 6, 2001,[17] while a Southern Right Whale that beached near Cape Town on 15 September 2005 was killed by authorities through detonation. In the latter instance, the authorities stated that the whale could not have been saved, and that the use of explosives in such cases was recommended by the International Whaling Commission.[18] A few weeks after the August 6th explosion near Port Elizabeth, the carcass of a second humpback was dragged out to sea and explosives were used to break it into pieces so it would not pose a hazard to shipping.[19] Yet another explosion was performed in Bonza Bay on September 20, 2004, when an adult humpback whale died after beaching itself. In order to sink the whale, authorities towed it out to sea, affixed explosives to it, and set them off from a distance.[20]

A whale carcass adrift in the Icelandic harbour of Hafnarfjörður was split in two by a controlled explosion on June 5, 2005. The remains were dragged out to sea; however, they soon drifted back, and eventually had to be tied down.[21]

See also


  1. ^ Linnman, Paul and Doug Brazil, Chapter 7. Linnman contacted Dr. Bruce Mate, a marine biologist at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport who was there that day. Dr. Mate says that it was not a gray whale, but was in fact a sperm whale.
  2. ^ Oregon State Archives. Oregon Secretary of State Archives Division, 1998. State Parks and Recreation Department - Agency History In the Oregon Blue Book online. Accessed September 22, 2006.
  3. ^ The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is the parent department of both agencies.
  4. ^ a b Report by Paul Linnman (KATU TV), transcribed by Hackstadt, J.; Hackstadt, S. Annotated transcript of the video. theexplodingwhale.com Accessed January 8, 2007.
  5. ^ a b Mikkelson, Barbara; Mikkelson, David P. (2000-03-19). "Thar She Blows!". Critter Country. snopes.com. http://www.snopes.com/critters/disposal/whale.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-08. 
  6. ^ "Son of blubber". Oregon Department of Transportation employee newspaper, TranScript, July 1994. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  7. ^ "Dead Whale Closes Oregon Beach". March 9, 2009. http://www.kptv.com/news/18886423/detail.html#-. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  8. ^ Barry 1996, pp. 164-65
  9. ^ Steven Hackstadt, The Evidence, TheExplodingWhale.com Accessed November 7, 2005; The Infamous Exploding Whale perp.com, Accessed June 6, 2005).
  10. ^ "The Infamous Exploding Whale: Letters". http://www.perp.com/whale/letters.html. Retrieved 2008-02-23. "As you might imagine, the whale receives a lot of email. However, seeing as how it's DEAD, it can't respond. (What are all you people thinking?)" 
  11. ^ Peter van der Linden, Well, I'll be FAQ'ed., Google Groups, June 28, 1991. Accessed June 6, 2005.
  12. ^ David P. Mikkelson, et al., Whale Blow Up, Google Groups, January 1992. Accessed June 6, 2005.
  13. ^ Star Wars Kid is top viral video, BBC News, November 27, 2006.
  14. ^ Jason Pan, " Sperm whale explodes in Tainan City", eTaiwan News, January 27, 2004 (accessed June 6, 2005).
  15. ^ "Whale explodes in Taiwanese city". BBC News, January 29, 2004. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  16. ^ Spalding, David A.E. (1998). Whales of the West Coast. Harbour Publishing. pp. 118–121. ISBN 1-55017-199-2. 
  17. ^ Timofei Byelo, "Explosives used to blow up whale in South Africa," Pravda. (accessed June 6, 2005).
  18. ^ "Beached whale killed with explosives". Sydney Morning Herald, September 15, 2005. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  19. ^ "Stranded humpback dies". Dispatch.co.za, August 22, 2001. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  20. ^ "Beached whale towed, blown up at sea". SABCnews.com, September 20, 2004. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  21. ^ "Hvalhræ dregið út á haf og síðan aftur upp í fjöru". mbl.is, June 5, 2005 Accessed June 6, 2005.


  • Adams, Douglas (1995). The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (reissue edition). Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-39180-2.
  • Barry, Dave (1991). Dave Barry Talks Back, pp. 21–24. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-517-58868-0.
  • Barry, D (1996). "Dave Barry In Cyberspace", Ballantine Books.
  • Jennings, Paul (1995). Uncanny!: Even More Surprising Stories. USA: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-037576-7.
  • Linnman, Paul; Doug Brazil (2003). The Exploding Whale: And Other Remarkable Stories from the Evening News. Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company. ISBN 1-55868-743-2.
  • O'Brian, Patrick (1937). Two's Company. In The Oxford Annual for Boys (Ed. Herbert Strang), pp. 5–18. London: Oxford University Press.
  • "Rotting whale's carcase may have to be blown up". The Scotsman, March 6, 2006. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  • "SA police blow up stranded whale". Dawn: the Internet edition, August 7, 2001. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  • "Thar She Blows! Dead whale explodes". MSNBC, January 29, 2004. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  • Tour, Jim (1995). "Obliterating Animal Carcasses With Explosives," Tech Tips, Jan. 1995, US Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service Technology & Development Program.

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