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Cue Michael Jackson: 'Zombie' Whales of Oregon Coast History

Published 02/23/21 at 12:06 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Cue Micheal Jackson: 'Zombie' Whales of Oregon Coast History

(Oregon Coast) – The lore of zombie whales along the Oregon coast is deeply embedded in its history.

Kidding. Deceased whales do move in mysterious ways sometimes, however, making it easy to make zombie jokes. One such incident came to light recently when the North Lincoln County History Center in Lincoln City happened across a rather amusing newspaper article about a whale stranding decades ago. (Photo above: a whale skull in winter of 2016 at Short Sand Beach. Courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

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It was way back on December 1 of 1952 that a local newspaper ran the headline of “Twice Buried Whale Returns to Depoe Bay.” This was almost two decades before the infamous “Exploding Whale” in Florence, and even back in the ‘50s the thing to do was to bury the beast, which they did the first time way back in April of that year.

Adding an extra curiosity to the article is the term “excessively dead” to describe the state of this 40-foot returning cetacean, quite possibly in the same jesting manner as this article. The “mass of blubber” as they called it found its way to some beach in the Depoe Bay area, although it doesn't say which. Depoe Bay is largely rocky cliffs around for miles, so it's possible they're talking about Fogarty to the north, Lincoln Beach, Whale Cove, or maybe way down at Beverly Beach next to Devil's Punchbowl.

In any case, a “whale disposal expert” came from Waldport and joined with the Oregon Highway Department to bury it on that beach. One month later, the paper said, sand had been scoured out and the hapless deceased creature started floating about once more, and again it was buried.

The reporter writes:

“Said the burying crew chief at the time: ‘If this thing comes back once more we'll entomb it in cement.' “

It's worth noting that a greater headline sits above the actual headline, reading “CEMENT JOB?” Now that intro is explained.

Again, as if in a goofy George Romero flick, in late November high tides come along and set this dead, blubbery beast loose. This time, it has an especially odorous way of announcing itself.

“The whale again hit the beach. Residents didn't have to see it to believe it. Ocean-blown breezes whipped the smell to every part of the city.”

If you've ever been near or downwind of a such a deceased creature, it's a pungent, rank smell like no other. You can just imagine the havoc this must have wrought on local restaurants.

Again comes in the cavalry of the state highway department (the precursor to ODOT) – or at least they've been notified. The article leaves with a bit of a cliffhanger: you don't know if they showed up or what.

The ending to this unique Oregon coast zombie flick goes unwritten, as if the last reel was lost. But the article does state while they were waiting for Oregon officials, residents were still considering encasing the thing in cement.

“Meanwhile, the odor lingers,” is the last line.

A cement-encased whale carcass is almost assuredly not something that happened, as there would be some evidence of it somewhere now, on whatever beach this took place on. This would be legendary, right? Some beach around here would be notorious for having a massive whale tomb lying around and people would make regular pilgrimages to, well, make horror movie jokes. Right?

Or….gulp….what if? What if there's a creepy whale tomb still lying beneath a tideline around here still waiting to be “unearthed?”

Yet this isn't the only time in Oregon coast history you could make a zombie whale joke. There was a notorious incident back in September of 2016 where a 38-foot Humpback whale kept showing up and then disappearing.

First, the U.S. Coast Guard spotted it floating off Arch Cape about September 19. Then on the 20th it stranded at Falcon Cove, and it was clear the thing had been dead awhile. Seaside Aquarium crews that dealt with it had one of the smelliest situations they'd ever encountered. Numerous other north Oregon coast residents and regulars that visited said the same thing.

The next day it washed back out and disappeared, and Seaside Aquarium's Keith Chandler told Oregon Coast Beach Connection at the time they believe it had gotten stuck in a cove somewhere at Cape Falcon.

Curious Coast History: Tillie the Whale skeleton was an attraction at Tillicum Beach for a time mid-century

By the 22nd, the whale reappeared at Short Sand Beach, where state parks managers and other officials simply let it sit. Storm season would come soon and the surfers and crowds that regularly hang out here would be largely gone.

Then, however, another whale carcass showed up at Short Sand in December, after making its own zombie moves. First it appeared at Gearhart, then a couple of stops later it too made it to Short Sand.

It was about that time that the original Humpback had been mostly claimed by nature, and all that stood that December was a massive bone section from its skull, photographed by Tiffany Boothe of the aquarium (at top).

There's no word that the skeleton ever got up and walked away. OK, kidding. Of course it didn't. Well, it likely floated away one day that winter. It's clearly no longer there.

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Photo Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium: the Humpback in September of 2016 (its skeletal remains seen at top)

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