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Warrenton Had an 'Exploding Whale' 30 Years Before Central Oregon Coast

Published 06/02/21 at 4:35 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Warrenton Had an 'Exploding Whale' 30 Years Before Central Oregon Coast

(Warrenton, Oregon) – 1937 on the Oregon coast. Newspapers around Oregon and the coastal region are filled with ever-ominous reports from Europe on the machinations of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, as well as the comings and goings of all things Hollywood. In late summer of that year, however, one rather momentous event goes relatively unnoticed. (Photo above: a deceased sperm whale at Warrenton, 2017. Courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

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There was an exploding whale on the Oregon coast more than 30 years before the more famous Exploding Whale that shook the airwaves and the beaches of Florence in 1970. That’s right, someone else blew up a whale.

How it went depends on how you think of it. Reports of the incident on September 1 of 1937 in Warrenton are extremely scarce, and at the time it wasn’t remarkable at all. Was it as bad as the Exploding Whale we all know and love? Quite likely, as there are some intimations it was as gory and as spectacular, but almost nothing was written about that. Warrenton’s Exploding Whale took care of the problem, apparently.

A legal ruling came out of this incident, however, that would theoretically help Oregon coast towns in the future during such incidents. However, as the recent article regarding Waldport’s Tillie the Whale indicates, an incident that occurred just a year later, that may not be the case.

Like the whale that became Tillie, the great cetacean that floated onto a tidalflat beach on August 18 was already deceased. However, it made landfall more on the Columbia River side of Warrenton rather than on an ocean beach, which later became a problem.

At first this whale was a big hit. Many flocked to check it out, and Warrenton was digging its new tourism draw. But that slacked off rather quickly as the creature began rotting in the summer sun. Soon, the entire burgh of Warrenton was getting hit with the stench and by the last few days of August it was a nasty, pervasive odor.

According to various newspaper reports, including The Bend Bulletin, The Oregonian, and the Medford Mail Tribune, among others, Warrenton sought the help of the State Highway Department in removing the smelly carcass. Just like what happened in Waldport almost exactly a year later, state officials said no. The department’s engineer RH Baldock explained that the highway department only had jurisdiction over the ocean shores and not the tideflats where the whale ended up.

So Warrenton turned to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which had been formed during the Great Depression and whose members built lovely Oregon coast things like trails and the stone shelter at Cape Perpetua. Locals hoped the CCC boys would burn the carcass. According to the Capital Journal: “but they balked after the Clatsop County court decided the highway department first must give its permission.”

Warrenton official G. Clifford Barlow was practically livid at this point. “Something has to be done to destroy the whale because of the increasing stench,” he wrote in a letter to the highway department.

So locals turned to dynamite. You can guess where this is heading. They snagged a “powderman” as news reports called him, a man named A. W. Foster from Portland. He volunteered, actually.

A large crowd had gathered, and as The Eugene Guard (later Register-Guard) put it “Like the crowds that rush to a fire, a lot of people stuck their noses into something that didn’t concern them at Warrenton last night, much to their own chagrin."

The 53-foot whale sat stinking to high heaven as Foster placed some 500 pounds of dynamite around it, hit the button and….

Boom.

If only Foster could see into the future some 33 years. Then again, maybe he wouldn’t care. Blubber did indeed blast into the air. The Guard’s headline was “Whale Splatters … Crowd Scatters.”

They said it “scattered Warrenton’s dead whale all over the landscape of Clatsop Beach.” The next day the paper ran another blurb and proclaimed it was a “noisy funeral.”

Warrenton Had an 'Exploding Whale' 30 Years Before Central Oregon Coast

The Oregonian notes “tourists arrived and departed hurriedly” because of the smell and the raining chunks.

The first piece in the Eugene Guard politely described what happened to onlookers. The day after the big boom locals flooded Astoria’s “cleaning and dyeing shops” and “automobiles were lined up waiting for their chance at auto steam-cleaning laundries.”

In other words, towns folk were soaked in whale guts and goo, as were their cars.

Still, locals considered the explosion a success, with tons of pieces scattering in all the right places, into bite-sized morsels perfect for local meat-eaters like gulls and such. At least a “success” is how regional papers described it.

The footnote to the tale is that a week later, the highway commission’s attorney ruled on the subject of state jurisdiction over those beaches. He reinforced what the department said before about only overseeing the ocean beaches. The legal precedent here was that the beaches were still considered highways, as declared early in the century. So the highway department was still in charge of the sandy shores (Oregon State Park took that reign later in the century).

“The whale was not in any part of the shore of the ocean which by law had been made a public highway,” wrote attorney JM Devers.

Barlow at the time thought this would help oceanfront communities in the future if massive whale carcasses needed removing. For whatever reason, it did not help a year later in Lincoln County when Waldport had its whale issue. [Also See: Before Exploding Whale, Legend of Oregon Coast's Imploding Whale] MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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Warrenton and the Old Young's Bay Bridge decades ago

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