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What do you do if an eight-ton sperm whale beaches itself in your town and dies?
This was the dilemma of the town of Florence, OR in 1970. The enormous corpse was stuck on their beach and beginning to rot, creating a public health hazard, an eye-sore, and a truly amazing stink. They obviously couldn’t simply leave the whale there to rot, but they couldn’t figure out how to get rid of it. So they turned the problem over to the Oregon Highway Division. The OHD came up with several possible methods of getting rid of the whale, ranging from burying it, to hacking it apart manually, but none of them seemed satisfactory. Finally they decided, in consultation with the US Navy, to deal with it as they would deal with any other large obstruction (read boulder).
They decided to use dynamite.
The theory was that by using dynamite, the whale’s corpse could be broken down into smaller hunks that natural scavengers such as gulls and raccoons would quickly dispose of. It would prevent having to find someone willing to hack apart eight tons of decomposing flesh, and they could avoid the risk of having the body undug and exposed again, which was a concern should they bury it. So the engineer in charge decided on what seemed like an adequate amount of explosives – half a ton – and the charges were packed around the body, while a slew of curious people and a local news crew gathered around to watch the event. Not too closely around – spectators were kept a good distance from the actual detonation site – but within good and clear view.
It was still too close.
When the dynamite went off, the whale vanished in a cloud of sand and debris, but almost immediately it became apparent that the cloud was spreading far and fast, and had an alarming amount of red stuff in it. Spectators began running as they were pelted with both a fine mist, and larger hunks of whale blubber. A car parked quarter of a mile away was totalled when a particularly large piece of blubber landed on top of it, crushing the roof. Fortunately no one was hurt, though many were disgusted and in dire need of showers.
The worst thing is that when the cloud cleared away, most of the whale corpse was still there. The Highway Department still had to send in workers to haul it away.
Fortunately for the rest of us, this event seems to have acted as an object lesson. Since that memorable day no whales have been deliberately blown up while on shore in the US. The current preferred disposal method (based on a brief internet survey), seems to be to tow the corpse out to sea, and then blow it up. The whale then sinks, preventing it from washing ashore again. Not necessarily the most aesthetic method of disposal, but at least you don’t have to hose down the bystanders.