Saturday, November 13, 2010

Flying Whales

     Shamefully, we here at Big Dave and Company missed a very important anniversary yesterday.  November 12, 2010 was the Fortieth Anniversary of the time the Oregon Highway Division (now the Oregon Department of Transportation or ODOT for short) used a half ton of dynamite to clear the beached carcass of an almost 45-foot-long, eight-ton sperm whale from a beach near Florence, Oregon.
     Even though all beaches in the state are under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, for some reason it fell to the Highway Division, and engineer George Thornton.  After consulting with the US Navy, it was decided that the best way to remove the dead whale was to use the same method that would be used to remove a boulder.

The whale in question, pre-detonation.
      And who can blame them?  You stick to what you know, right?  And in Oregon, I would suspect that they know a thing or two about removing rocks from the path of new highways and roads.  So they are experienced at how to go about that.  And the way they go about it is blowing it up then picking up the smaller pieces.  In all fairness, they did consider some other options and ruled them out for various reasons.  So explosion it is.
    Now, you need to know, Company, that in the years since then explosions have been used on multiple occasions to dispose of or manage whale carcasses.  In places like South Africa and Iceland they have successfully detonated dead whales.  But usually they tow them out to sea first, and detonate them remotely.  Makes things a lot less messy.  I suppose that we could say they learned a thing or two about it as a result of what happened up in Oregon on that fall day in 1970, and I am sure we would be right.  But anyway, back to the story.
     A news crew was on hand from a friendly Portland television station for the event, and they caught the whole thing on tape.  What they and others present witnessed was an explosion that 1.) failed to eliminate the carcass and 2.) sent large chunks of whale blubber, guts, and flesh flying through the air, landing in parking lots and in front of buildings in some cases up to 800 feet away.  In once case whale debris even caused heavy damage to a parked car.  Most of the carcass was left lying on the beach where it started, waiting for workers from the Highway Division to clean it up.  Plus they had all that other stuff to clean up to.
     Quick note: this story received a lot of press and sort of became an urban legend when writer Dave Barry wrote a column about it on May 20, 1990, which led to all sorts of calls to ODOT when the column went out over the wires without noting that the actual even occurred in 1970.  The video is out there to be seen, Company, if you look around the Interweb long enough.  I am not going to go searching for it for you though, I got you pictures and that should be enough.

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