You know the story. It's November 12, 1970. Officials on an Oregon beach are faced with a massive 45-foot, 8-ton whale carcass. And they decide to try an unorthodox method of whale disposal – involving 20 cases of dynamite. It all goes off something like this:
Forty-five years later – happy anniversary, Exploding Whale! – the story has been retold countless times, and (thank you, internet) millions and millions of us around the globe have since watched the infamous burst of blubber missiles.
But explosive whale-related events are not as unusual as you'd think – minus the humans and the dynamite, of course. When the remains of a beached whale decompose, gases like methane build up inside the carcass – and sometimes, the resulting pressure is powerful enough for detonation. As this marine biologist in the Faroe Islands discovered when degassing one in 2013:
Now rewind to 2004, when a 60-ton sperm whale exploded on a busy street while being transported for necropsy in Taiwan. The results were pretty gory. Just last year, locals in a small Newfoundland town feared they were in for a similar scenario when the smelly and bloated carcass of a blue whale threatened to erupt on shore. The tense anticipation even spawned the website HasTheWhaleExplodedYet.com. (In the end, the situation deflated.)
Lessons we've learned about effective whale disposal over the past few decades must certainly have come in handy just recently, back on Exploding Whale's home turf in Oregon. Scientists there have been on demolition duty since a giant blue whale carcass washed up on a local beach last week. This time, there was not a stick of dynamite in sight – the remains were burned and buried. The skeleton is destined for museum display, where it'll offer visitors a unique learning opportunity.
And since our shared love of watching dead whales explode has brought us all this way down memory lane (and will probably do so again in future), why not pay due homage by brushing up on the right steps to take if you spot a stranded marine mammal.
Top header image: Tim Ellis, Flickr