40th Anniversary of Oregon Coast Exploding Whale Film Clip

Published 11/12/2010

Still of film from KATU

(Florence, Oregon) - It was 40 years ago today a legend was born: one that is arguably the most watched video clip on the Internet.

The Internet - and much of Oregon media - has been abuzz today with cries of “Happy Exploding Whale Day.” The infamous incident first popularized by columnist Dave Barry, and then by a flood of Internet attention, happened 40 years ago in this state, on this coast.

It was the days of long hair, rock music still being regarded with suspicion, and it was way before the Internet or even cell phones. Indeed, color TV’s were still rather new. On November 12, 1970, the Oregon Highway Department (later to become ODOT), took well-meaning but radical steps to rid a Florence beach of a whale that had washed up, and it was beginning to get disgustingly ripe.

The central Oregon coast was, quite literally, about to get rocked.

Exploding whale clip, KATU

The Highway Department’s George Thornton, an engineer, was in charge of a new approach to this whale of a problem: blow it up with dynamite. The point was to blow it into thousands of tiny pieces that would then be eaten by seagulls. It was also intended these pieces be shot towards the ocean.

But it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Meanwhile, a large crowd gathered along the bluff overlooking this beach, just south of the Siuslaw River.

Then 23-year-old Paul Linnman, a reporter for KATU channel 2 news in Portland, was on the scene, getting filmed by cameraman Paul Brazil. Their encapsulation of the event has become perhaps the most viewed film clip ever.

Linnman and Brazil show a bit of the preparation and a quick interview with Thornton, as well as a shot of the many spectators. A countdown is shown, and then the creature explodes in an upward rush of pink and red gore, estimated to have risen to 100 feet.

At first there are oo’s and aww’s as people are impressed. Linnman points out on camera, in one of the more famous instances of alliteration: “The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”

The sounds of being impressed turn to some amount of panic, and the camera actually catches the sound of falling chunks of whale plopping everywhere.

Whale guts and car damage after the blast.

According to the article from the Eugene Register-Guard at the time, large pieces hit first. One chunk of three feet in length caved in the top of a Springfield man’s car.

Shortly after, thousands and thousands of smaller pieces fell, sometimes in an oily mist, according to Brazil.

The smell? It was now worse, and it was everywhere. It was all over the cars. It was all over the spectators.

Linnman, interviewed tonight by KATU-TV, describes a disgusting pink coating on himself and Brazil.

People ran to their cars and fled.

The Springfield man was paid for the value of his car by the state 11 days later. After that, this incident was largely forgotten, until 20 years later.

The tale was then made famous by humorist Dave Barry in the 90’s. Shortly after, or perhaps almost immediately, the film clip hit the Net and has been circulating wildly ever since. KATU estimates it has received 400 million views in its lifetime.

In 2000, the Eugene Register-Guard did a 30-year retrospective on the event. Thornton, by then retired, had still not spoken to the press to that day.

On the infamous day, Thornton told the press the big problem was the blast funneled a hole beneath the whale.

This method of blowing up a whale to get rid of it was never tried again. Now, Oregon State Parks takes care of such issues and buries whale carcasses deep in the sand. Much was learned from that day – like to never do it again.

Whales are now disposed of by burial, like this one in Seaside (photo by Seaside Aquarium)

Interestingly enough, this film clip was almost lost completely and quite possibly might have never been seen. In the KATU interview on Friday night, Linnman said in the post-blast panic, the film was left in the trunk of someone else’s car. The pair flew back to Portland without it (these were the days before live feeds, after all).

Linnman told KATU the news director at the time was quite firm about the issue: the film would make it back to the studios in time to run in the next day’s newscast. Linnman and Brazil managed to convince the man who's car contained the film can to drive to Portland in the middle of the night.

Film clip: Brazil talks about that day.

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