On Nov. 12, 1970, a sperm whale carcass was blown to pieces on the Oregon coast, sending huge chunks of blubber falling not just onto innocent bystanders, but into the history books.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 50 years. This is the same exploded whale carcass that earned national attention in the 1990s, regained fame in the early days of YouTube, and continues to captivate us to this day.
The legend of the exploding whale has been kept alive by a rotating cast of reporters, writers and at least one musician. Untold millions have watched the footage online. The r/Portland community on Reddit has paid homage with exploding-whale-themed upvote and downvote buttons.
That makes it easy to celebrate the exploding whale’s big anniversary this year.
Whether you’re watching the video for the hundredth time, reading Dave Barry’s column or listening to former KATU reporter Paul Linnman recount the tale, there’s no wrong way to mark the event. Just make sure to remember the moral of the story – that not all problems (if any) can be solved by simply strapping them with dynamite.
As Linnman said in his iconic 1970 broadcast: “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.”
Here’s how to celebrate the 50th anniversary this year.
1. Watch the historic news broadcast
The legendary KATU broadcast from 1970 became the stuff of legends after it resurfaced in the viral video age. Paul Linnman, reporting from the scene that day, gave a pitch-perfect delivery, expertly balancing the absurdity and seriousness of the situation. He also gave us the iconic line, “the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”
2. Join the Oregon Historical Society talk
For the 50th anniversary of the event, former KATU reporter Paul Linnman will be speaking with Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society, at a virtual event that is free and open to the public. The talk will take place Thursday, Nov. 12, at 7:30 p.m. You can RSVP online at ohs.org.
3. Visit the beach where it happened
The famous sperm whale carcass washed up about a mile south of the Siuslaw River near Florence, an area that is part of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. To get there, take U.S. 101 to South Jetty Road, and stay right onto Sand Dunes Road. In 4.6 miles, look for a parking area on the left, and walk north on the beach to reach the blast site.
4. Head to Exploding Whale Memorial Park
Earlier this year, the people of Florence were asked to name the city’s newest riverfront park, and they chose to memorialize that day of blasted blubber by dubbing it Exploding Whale Memorial Park. The park offers views of the Siuslaw River and the sand dunes across the water, with access to the river beach. Find it on Rhododendron Drive, just west of the Siuslaw River Bridge (Google Maps still labels it as “Siuslaw River Beach Access Park”.)
5. Listen to “Exploding Whale” by Sufjan Stevens
After releasing his critically acclaimed album “Carrie & Lowell” in 2015, singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens put out a limited-release single called “Exploding Whale,” which pays homage to the infamous event. “Embrace the epic fail of my exploding whale,” he sings.
6. Read “The Exploding Whale and Other Remarkable Stories from the Evening News”
KATU reporter Paul Linnman’s 2003 autobiography naturally centers on his most famous report, which launched his career in the news business. Linnman, who wrote for The Oregonian in college, eventually worked his way up to evening news anchor at KATU before he retired. “The Exploding Whale” dives into some of the other stories and oddities he witnessed over the years.
7. Revisit Dave Barry’s column
Credit for reviving the exploding whale story belongs to Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry, who in 1990 highlighted the event in his nationally syndicated column for the Miami Herald. Titled “The Farside Comes to Life in Oregon,” Barry needled the absurdity of the whole situation. And although he started the column by insisting “I am absolutely not making this incident up,” many readers thought he might be, leading to a surge in interest among the public a full two decades after it happened.
8. Read what ODOT had to say about it
After Dave Barry’s column was published, the Oregon Department of Transportation fielded calls from around the country seeking comment on the exploding whale incident. The agency put out a short article confirming the story, complete with quotes from one retired employee who earned a promotion after drawing whale blubber cleanup duty.
9. Learn about other “exploding whale” incidents
At least one website, TheExplodingWhale.com, has dedicated itself to documenting not just the infamous Oregon event, but exploding whale incidents around the world. The website has documented nearly a dozen events in Australia, China and South Africa, between whales that were blown up with explosives or exploded on their own due to a buildup of gas during decomposition.
10. Wish Tonya Harding a happy birthday
As crews loaded up the sperm whale with dynamite, another famous Oregon figure entered the world. Famed figure skater Tonya Harding, known for her athletic feats as well as her scandals, was born on Nov. 12, 1970, forever linking her with the exploding whale. Happy birthday, Tonya!
–Jamie Hale; [email protected]; 503-294-4077; @HaleJamesB