I’ve been hearing about this from a wide variety of bullshit artists ever since I moved to Portland, but I’m hoping you’ll have the real scoop: Did the State of Oregon really blow up a whale?
Oregon’s legendary exploding whale looms so large in my mythology I’m always surprised when someone hasn’t heard of it—it’s like meeting someone who doesn’t know you can light farts.
Yes, it really happened (there are videos—more than 700,000 hits on YouTube). In 1970, a rotting, 45-foot sperm whale washed up on the beach near Florence. Since Oregon beaches are public rights of way, disposal of the whale fell to the Department of Transportation (then called the Oregon Highway Division).
In a decision that would prove fateful, ODOT elected to use dynamite, hoping to reduce the whale to bite-sized chunks that could be carried off by seagulls and other scavengers.
In fairness, ODOT didn’t invent this method of whale disposal—it was and remains one of the accepted solutions to this thorny problem. That said, things could have gone better: The half-ton of dynamite used may have been excessive, and a chunk of whale really did crush a car parked a quarter-mile away. The whole thing was pretty gross, and ODOT has suffered 40 years of jeers because of it.
But let’s be honest: Eight tons of rotting meat isn’t something you can blot out with a little club soda on a cocktail napkin. All of the officially accepted solutions to this problem are deeply disgusting. You can: (1) Carve up the rotting whale with chainsaws; (2) tow it out to sea, weight it down with train parts, and hope the chains hold; or (3) tow it out to sea and blow it up.
In this context, ODOT’s decision doesn’t seem so crazy. Plus, how many other states have had an exploding whale?