“The whale will not be exploded.”
That’s not something most state agencies would need to announce when a thirty-six-foot sperm whale washes up on one of their beaches, but most states are not Oregon when it comes to exploding whales.
The headline in the Oregonian’s Twitter feed this week: Very dead sperm whale washes up on Oregon coast, will not be exploded. (The Oregonian is the state’s only surviving newspaper, and when I say ‘newspaper,’ I of course mean two part-time employees, one IT manager/pizza delivery guy, a laptop, and a smartphone.) (And when I say ‘surviving,’ I mean dying.)
“Why would they be mentioning anything about a whale exploding?”, you may be asking yourself, if you’re a rational adult human from any other state besides Oregon. To answer that question, we must go back all the way to 1970, two full years before I was even born, to the best thing anyone ever did on planet Earth in the 1900s, bar none. (And note, I am including the moon landing and the conception and birth of Clint Eastwood in there.)
In 1970, a forty-five-foot, eight-ton Pacific Gray whale washed ashore near Florence, OR. Oregon’s own KATU Channel 2 newsman Paul Linnman and his faithful crew were there to document all the action for posterity.
What action is involved in a dead whale, you ask? Well, normally not much, but that answer changes dramatically if you bring in the Oregon State Highway Division, because apparently, they have dynamite.
In 1970, the highway guys were brought in to help get rid of the rotting whale carcass that was beginning to stink up the coast. What to do with it was the question of the day.
Naw, it might just resurface.
Cut it up?
We don’t have enough gas masks.
Hmm... You know... we could blow it up with dynamite.
Yes! We’re guys who have access to a lot of dynamite. Why didn’t we think of that earlier?
Let’s put on our hard hats to look official, and then we’ll start packing dynamite under this thing.
How much should we put under it?
Hmm... Well, the dead whale weighs approximately eight tons, so calculating for explosive yield minus target weight and density, I’d say we need about a quarter-ton of dynamite.
But we have a half-ton of dynamite.
Cool! Let’s just put it all under there.
How far should we move all these people back?
I dunno. Maybe to the road?
Hmm... this is a thousand pounds of dynamite we’re talking about. Why don’t we move them all to the next beach parking lot down the road. That’s like a quarter-mile away.
Great. That’s pretty far away, though. I hope they’re able to see and hear the awesome explosion from there!
The general idea was to use high explosives to blow the offensive-smelling animal into bite-size chunks for seagulls and crabs to feast on. And if you were to pack the boxes of dynamite just right, you’d be sure to blow most of it straight back into the ocean.
I’m not sure what was going through the trigger man’s head as he detonated that half-ton of dynamite under that wayward Oregon gray whale, but I do know what happened next, and it is fantastic!
As the KATU cameras rolled from the “safe zone,” we were initially ecstatic about the size and relative loudness of the explosion. It was amazing. The explosion created a sand cloud so huge that nothing could be seen down on the beach. Was the whale gone? Who can tell with that giant dust cloud, but wasn’t that explosion awesome?... uh, what was that?
Umm... whale parts, I think... Raining down on us from the explosion.
Whale parts? How can that be... Holy Crap! Look out!
As the crowd from the not-so-safe-zone started to duck and cover, it became clear what was going on. Whale blubber is strangely resistant to dynamite, but it does act as a large floppy projectile when properly motivated.
As people in polyester clothing ran for their actual lives, a chunk of whale so large it could total a car landed on top of someone’s Oldsmobile, completely totaling the car, as advertised.
Amazingly, no one was seriously injured in the hail storm of whale parts, so Paul was free to make light of the event in his voiceover for the evening news.
Completely deadpan, he noted, “The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”
When the sand and dust and whale parts had cleared, it turned out that a half-ton of dynamite just doesn’t cut it against an eight-ton whale. Almost the entire stinky mammal was still on the beach, right where it had been sitting before some of it was rudely interrupted by a bang.
As night closed in, the highway division’s tractors could be seen burying the remaining parts of the whale. Just like they probably should have done in the first place.
And, that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Oregon news outlets need to say that we won’t be exploding this new whale.
Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen
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