Exploding whale

Exploding whales have been documented on two notable occasions, as well as several lesser-known ones. The most famous explosion occurred in the United States at Florence, Oregon, in 1970, when a dead sperm whale (originally reported as a gray whale) was blown up by the Oregon Highway Division in an attempt to dispose of its rotting carcass.

This incident became famous in the U.S. when American humorist Dave Barry wrote about it in his newspaper column after viewing television footage of the explosion. The incident later became well-known internationally when the same footage circulated on the Internet.

The other well-reported case of an exploding whale was in Taiwan in 2004, when a buildup of gas inside a decomposing sperm whale caused it to explode while it was being transported for a post-mortem examination.




There are documented cases of exploding animals, though such happenings are fairly rare. There have been a number of incidents where whales have been detonated; the most notable occured in the United States and in Taiwan and were widely covered by the world press. However, less famous explosions have been carried out in other parts of the world.


Florence, Oregon, USA

On November 12, 1970, a 14 m (45 ft), eight-ton sperm whale died as a result of beaching itself near Florence, Oregon.[1] Since all Oregon beaches are under the jurisdiction of the state Parks and Recreation Department,[2] responsibility for disposing of the carcass fell upon the Oregon Highway Division (now known as the Oregon Department of Transportation, or ODOT), a sister agency.[3] After consulting with officials at the United States Navy, they decided that it would be best to remove the whale in the same way they would remove a boulder and, on November 12, used half a ton of dynamite to remove it. They thought burying the whale would be ineffective, as it would soon be uncovered, and they believed the use of dynamite would cause an explosion that would disintegrate the whale into pieces small enough for scavengers to clear up. The engineer in charge of the operation, George Thornton, was recorded as stating 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 television photographer Doug Brazil for a story reported by news reporter Paul Linnman of KATU-TV in Portland, Oregon. In his voiceover, Linnman 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 quite some distance away from the beach, resulting in a smashed car. The explosion did not disintegrate most of the whale, which remained on the beach for the Oregon Highway Division workers to clear away.

At the end of his news story, Paul 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." It was reported in the ODOT's employee newspaper, TranScript, that when 41 sperm whales beached nearby in 1979, state parks officials burned and buried them.[6] Today, beach managers tow dead beached whales to the open sea. This is done mainly for safety reasons, as the rotting corpses have been known to attract sharks and so become a danger to beach users.

For several years, the story of the exploding whale was commonly disbelieved and thought to be 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 had footage of the event. 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". However, the piece did not explain that the event had happened approximately twenty five years previously and whoever had copied Barry's article neglected to include the authorship of the piece; Dave Barry says that on a fairly regular basis someone forwards him the "authorless" column and suggests he write something about the described incident. Due to these oversights, an article in the ODOT's TranScript notes that

Exploding whale
"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]

Exploding whale

The footage that was referred to in the article, from KATU for the news story reported by Paul Linnman, resurfaced later as a video file on several websites and became a reasonably well-known and popular Internet meme.[7] 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. Their critical emails were subsequently published by the bemused site webmasters.

The story of Oregon's exploding whale was widely known on Usenet for quite some time 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).[8] In 1992, after newsgroup poster "snopes" tried to verify whether this was true or not, the newsgroup received confirmation that it was a true story and marked it as true.[9]

Since then, the Oregon explosion has inspired a website devoted to the incident[10] and has also been parodied in the second season of the Comedy Central show Drawn Together, in which a group of tribesmen attempt to move the carcass of Toot Braunstein, the fattest of the show's characters, by blowing up her body.


Tainan, Taiwan

A second whale explosion occurred on January 26, 2004, in Tainan City, Taiwan. In this incident, a buildup of gas inside a decomposing sperm whale, measuring 17 meters (56 ft.) long and weighing 50 tons, caused it to burst. The older bull whale had died after becoming beached on the southwestern coast of Taiwan, and it had taken more than 13 hours, three large cranes, and 50 workers to shift the beached sperm whale onto the back of a truck.

While the whale was being moved, the paper's website Taiwan News, eTaiwanNews.com, reported that "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".[11] 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 post-mortem at the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan. The whale was being transported on the back of a truck through the center of Tainan from the university laboratory to the preserve when the explosion occurred. Although the explosion was spectacular, it did not stop researchers from performing a necropsy on the animal.

The explosion was reported to have 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."[12]

Over the course of about one year, Professor Wang completed a bone display from the remains of the whale's rotting dead body. The assembled specimen and some preserved organs and tissues have been on display in the Tai Jiang Cetacean Museum since April 8, 2005.


Other incidents

Whales are regularly disposed of through the use of explosion; however, the whales are usually first towed out to sea. More than a few detonations, less notable than the ones in Oregon and Tainan, have been undertaken in South Africa, while one explosion was done by authorities in 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,[13] while a Southern Right Whale that beached near Cape Town on 15 September 2005 was killed by authorities through detonation. In this instance authorities said that the whale could not have been saved, and that the use of explosives in such cases was recommended by the International Whaling Commission.[14] 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.[15] Yet another explosion was performed in Bonza Bay on September 20, 2004, when an adult humpback whale beached and died. In order to sink the whale, authorities towed it out to sea, and affixed explosives to it, later set off from a distance.[16]

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.[17]


In fiction

Exploding whales are a theme written about by several authors; their unusual, absurd, and highly improbable nature makes them an interesting topic. For instance, Australian children's book author Paul Jennings wrote a book called Uncanny!: Even More Surprising Stories that features a story about a father and son being given the task of blowing up a dead whale with gelignite. In Patrick O'Brian's short story Two's Company, written in 1937, a large whale is washed up against an isolated lighthouse occupied by two lighthouse keepers, creating a "seabird and shark feeding frenzy, not to mention an atrocious stench". The men beg for some explosives from the destroyer sent to re-supply them so they can dispose of the carcass. In Julian May's Saga of Pliocene Exile series, a trickster genius character named Aiken Drum blows up a beached whale-like creature on the planet Dalriada, causing messy and disgusting results.

While not strictly about an actual explosion, in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy a sperm whale materializes in thin air above a distant planet, only to fall several miles to the ground, creating "a crater about a hundred and fifty yards wide" containing "the exploded carcass of a lonely sperm whale". The whale started life as an explosive: a nuclear missile, changed into a whale by the Infinite Improbability Drive. There is also a backreference to this literary incident in Fallout 2, a PC role-playing game popular in the late 1990s. In one of the random encounters of the game, the player faces a huge exploded corpse of a sperm whale in the middle of the desert.


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. 4.0 4.1 Report by Paul Linnman (KATU TV), transcribed by Hackstadt, J.; Hackstadt, S. Annotated transcript of the video. theexplodingwhale.com Accessed January 8, 2007.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Mikkelson, Barbara; Mikkelson, David P. (March 19, 2000). Thar She Blows!. Critter Country. snopes.com. Retrieved on 2007-01-08.
  6. "Son of blubber". Oregon Department of Transportation employee newspaper, TranScript, July 1994. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  7. Steven Hackstadt, The Evidence, TheExplodingWhale.com Accessed November 7 2005; The Infamous Exploding Whale perp.com, Accessed June 6 2005).
  8. Peter van der Linden, Well, I'll be FAQ'ed., Google Groups, June 28 1991. Accessed June 6 2005.
  9. David P. Mikkelson, et al., Whale Blow Up, Google Groups, January 1992. Accessed June 6 2005.
  10. Hackstadt, J.; Hackstadt, S. The exploding whale website - definitive guide to the exploding whale of Oregon. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  11. Pan, Jason. "Sperm whale explodes in Tainan City". eTaiwanNews.com, January 27, 2004. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  12. "Whale explodes in Taiwanese city". BBC News, January 29, 2004. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  13. Timofei Byelo, "Explosives used to blow up whale in South Africa," Pravda. (accessed June 6 2005).
  14. "Beached whale killed with explosives". Sydney Morning Herald, September 15, 2005. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  15. "Stranded humpback dies". Dispatch.co.za, August 22, 2001. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  16. "Beached whale towed, blown up at sea". SABCnews.com, September 20, 2004. Accessed January 8, 2007.
  17. "Hvalhræ dregið út á haf og síðan aftur upp í fjöru". mbl.is, June 5, 2005 Accessed June 6, 2005.



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