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Exploding whale

There have been two documented, notable incidents of exploding whales, as well as some lesser-known ones. The most famous explosion occurred in Florence, Oregon, United States, in 1970, when a dead gray whale was blown up by the Oregon Highway Division in an attempt to dispose of its rotting carcass. This incident became famous when American humorist Dave Barry wrote about it in his newspaper column, and latterly via television footage of the incident that appeared on the Internet. The other well-reported case of an exploding whale was in Taiwan in 2004. In that incident, a buildup of gas inside a decomposing sperm whale caused it to explode while it was being transported for post-mortem examination.



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

In November 1970, a 14 m (45 ft), eight ton gray whale died as a result of beaching itself near Florence, Oregon. At the time, the Oregon Highway Division had jurisdiction over beaches, and was given the task of removing the whale carcass. 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, they used half a ton of dynamite to detonate the whale. This decision was made because they thought that burying the whale would be ineffective, as it would soon be uncovered, and they believed that the use of dynamite would cause an explosion that would disintegrate the whale into pieces that were 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. [1] [2]

The resulting explosion was caught on tape by television news reporter Paul Linnman. In his voiceover, Linnman joked that "land-lubber newsmen" became "land-blubber newsmen", for "the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds." [3] The explosion caused large pieces of blubber to land quite some distance away from the beach, resulting in a smashed car, and also scared away scavenging birds. The scavengers would have been unable to quickly dispose of the whale in any case, as the scattered chunks of whale meat were mostly far too large for them to handle in one piece. Regardless, 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 is reported that 41 sperm whales beached nearby in 1979; state parks officials burned and buried them. Nowadays beach managers do not tend to blow up dead beached whales but instead tow them out to 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. However, on September 30, 2004, an adult humpback whale beached itself at Bonza Bay beach in East London, South Africa. In order to sink the whale they towed it out to sea and detonated it from a distance. [4]

Urban legend status

For several years the story of the exploding whale was held 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. Sometime 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 footage that was referred to in the article, taken by KATU Channel 2 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. [5] [6] These websites attracted criticism from animal rights activists, who complained that they are 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). [7] 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. [8] [9]

Whoever 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.


Another whale explosion occurred on January 29, 2004 in Tainan, Taiwan. In this incident a build-up 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 on to the back of a truck. While the whale was being moved, the website of the newspaper Taiwan News,, 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". [10] 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 post-mortem 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." [11] After the explosion, the Taipei Times noted that many men were interested in the size of the whale's penis, which was recorded as being 1.6 m (5 ft.) long. They wrote that "more than 100 Tainan city residents, mostly men, have reportedly gone to see the corpse to 'experience' the size of its penis." (cited MSNBC, [12]; also Taipei Times, [13])

Other incidents

Exploding whales in books of fiction

Exploding whales are a theme written about by several authors, their unusual, absurd and highly improbable nature making them an interesting topic to write about. The most well known exploding whales in literature have been

  • Australian children's book author Paul Jennings wrote a book called Uncanny!: Even More Surprising Stories that features a story about an exploding whale, a watch, and some ambergris.
  • In Two's Company, a short story written by Patrick O'Brian in 1937, a large whale is washed up against an isolated lighthouse occupied by two lighthousekeepers, 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 Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (chapters 18 and 20), a sperm whale materializes in thin air above a distant planet, only to fall several miles to the ground, ending with a "sudden wet thud" and creating "a crater about a hundred and fifty yards wide" containing "the exploded carcass of a lonely sperm whale".
  • There is also a backreference to Douglas Adams' story 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



  • Adams, Douglas (1995). The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (reissue edition). Ballantine Books. ISBN 0345391802.
  • Jennings, Paul (1995). Uncanny!: Even More Surprising Stories. USA: Penguin. ISBN 0140375767.
  • Linnman, Paul; Brazil, Doug (2003). The Exploding Whale: And Other Remarkable Stories from the Evening News. Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company. ISBN 1558687432.
  • O'Brian, Patrick (1937). Two's Company. In The Oxford Annual for Boys (Ed. Herbert Strang), pp. 5–18. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Tour, Jim (1995). "Obliterating Animal Carcasses With Explosives," Tech Tips, Jan. 1995, US Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service Technology & Development Program.

News articles


External links

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