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Oregon Coast's Exploding Whale 50th Celebrated in Florence, Online

Published 11/05/20 at 4:45 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Oregon Coast’s Exploding Whale 50th Celebrated in Florence, Online

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(Florence, Oregon) – What is likely Oregon’s most notoriously amusing moment in history turns 50 years old next week: the incident known as “the Exploding Whale.” The central Oregon coast town of Florence has increasingly played along with the joke over the decades, then playing it up, and now it’s a firm part of its tourism appeal. (Still shot from video courtesy KATU)

The infamous incident took place November 12, 1970, but began a few days earlier when a deceased whale washed up. State officials took a different approach to getting rid of the now-smelly corpse and decided to blow it up. A little more than ten years later the tale re-emerged when humorist Dave Barry wrote about it, and the story blew up again, this time in worldwide media.

See Wacky Oregon Coast History: Nov. 12 is Happy Exploding Whale Day, New Facts 

The decade anniversaries have been fervently noted and celebrated, starting with the twentieth back in 1990. This year’s 50-year celebration was supposed to be the biggie for Florence, but COVID-19 had other plans.

Awhile back, the City of Florence acknowledged that this month was to be the official celebration of the comic happening, even doing so by proclamation. So when the pandemic canceled all public gatherings that were planned in 2020’s to-do, a group of concerned citizens stepped up, along with a handful of businesses. Now, the celebration goes mostly virtual, but one smaller party happens on November 14 at Homegrown Public House & Brewery (541-997-4886) between 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. Warm up with some of Homegrown’s Pandemic Porter, Exploding Whale Ale and plenty of food stuffs, while dropping in for a memorial of the whale and maybe some reminiscing.

“Mindful, COVID-safe distancing and protocol to be practiced,” said co-organizer Terry Abeyta.

You can digitally join in paying homage to the whale by sharing a memorial virtually on social media by tagging #whalegoboom.

It was the then-called Oregon Highway Department (now ODOT) that made the decision to dynamite one side of the whale, in order to fire off the chunks back into the sea. Dynamite was detonated on November 12 at 3:45 p.m. The explosion, in the immortal words of KATU-TV reporter, Paul Linnman, “blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.” Nasty, gooey bits of rotting flesh shot 100 feet up into the air and more than 800 feet away. One chunk crushed a car.

The story was written about quite a bit in the ‘80s but really gained a firm footing in culture around the world with the invention of the Internet, where it became the most viewed footage for about two decades or so. It even sparked a kind of holiday: cries of “Happy Exploding Whale Day” caught on for several years, mostly repeated in Portland’s bar scene in the 2010s.

Florence and the central Oregon coast became famous for a strange reason, but it did forever alter how state officials dealt with whale carcass strandings.

“This event began Florence’s connection to whales, marine studies, philanthropy, the arts and, as we all know, has also become a popular topic of some off-beat, yet innocent, humor,” Abeyta said. “For this, we should stand proud.”

Even the local sports team was named after The Exploding Whale.

Abetya said that these days Florence’s whale relationship continues with philanthropic projects like BE the Whale, which is founded by a Florence residents Jan and Brian Jagoe, owners of River Gallery, and is a nation-wide program offering scholarships for students in the arts and raises awareness of endangered species. One group created Exploding Whale promotional items, including BeauxArts Fine Art Materials along with Florence’s, The Committee on Random Acts of Kindness, where proceeds go towards art scholarships for local youth. Siuslaw school students have had the chance to express their talents with art and video production through these programs.

Go to @Iloveflorence97439 on Facebook for more info or call Homegrown at #541-997-4886.

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Above: Exploding Whale Park in Florence

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