We’ve all heard the story. It’s 1970 and a whale carcass is stinking up the Oregon coastline. Officials in the town of Florence tasked with disposing of the deceased animal opt for an unorthodox approach: cram the carcass full of 20 cases of dynamite and blast the problem into oblivion. As you’ve probably already guessed, things didn't exactly go to plan.

The explosion launched several slabs of meat and blubber into the air, sending reporters and spectators scurrying for cover. Remains of the 45-foot (14-metre) sperm whale were scattered up to 800 feet (240 m) away. "The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds,” quipped one local news reporter at the time. The event is undoubtedly the most fabled whale detonation on record (yes, there have been others).

Now, fifty years later, this grisly snippet of Oregon history has been commemorated with a newly-named park. On June 13, the City of Florence hosted a low-key dedication ceremony to unveil the new sign for "Exploding Whale Memorial Park" situated on the sandy shores of the Siuslaw River. The park was set for a grand opening in May at the 113th annual Florence Rhododendron Festival to tie in with the event’s special theme: "Blast from the Past". But the festival was cancelled in the wake of COVID-19.

"Flo the Whale," a mascot created by a community member in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the whale blast event, stands next to the newly unveiled park sign. (Image: © Courtesy of the City of Florence)

According to a statement from the City of Florence, potential names for the park were proposed by community members and the winner was selected in a "Name the Park" survey. While many of the suggestions like "Rolling Tides Community Park" or "Dune View Park" highlighted the area’s natural beauty, voters couldn’t resist the quirkiness of cetacean detonation – "Exploding Whale Memorial Park" won in a landslide.

The Oregon dynamiting may be the most famous on the books, but its not the only time a whale carcass has been affixed with explosives and "redistributed" to rest in pieces. In some areas like South Africa, Iceland, and Australia, it’s not uncommon for officials to drag problematic whale carcasses out to sea where they are sunk by means of explosives. Government-sanctioned, controlled detonations have even been used to euthanise animals that could not be saved.

Take away the dynamite-happy humans and some expired whales will blow up all on their own. When the remains of a beached whale decompose, gases like methane build up inside the carcass – if the resulting pressure is powerful enough, the carcass may burst. As this biologist in the Faroe Islands discovered when degassing one in 2013:

Sperm _Whale _explodes

Nine years before that, Tainan City in Taiwan joined the annals of whale blast history when a decomposing sperm whale burst while being transported on the back of a truck en route to a university lab for preservation. The explosion splattered store fronts and spectators with blood and entrails.

So how should we dispose of decomposing whales, then? Despite the insistence of the engineer in charge of the notorious 1970 blast that everything went to plan and the whole thing was, er, blown out of proportion by the media, explosions seem an ill-advised strategy – at least in the case of sizeable whales that are stranded near car parks or other areas where "blubber rain" may cause extensive damage. When a whale washed up on Oregon's North Coast in April this year, the authorities chose the least dramatic solution and buried the 40-foot creature (much to the chagrin of one local reporter who asked: "Do you really want to live in a state that won't dynamite giant animal carcasses when given the chance?"

Clearly we have learned a lot about whale disposal in the decades since that gory November day in Florence. Where possible, carcasses should be dragged out to sea and sunk so the remains may become a smorgasbord of blubbery delight for underwater species skilled at dismantling large-carcasses. If the whale holds some scientific value (and can be transported to a lab without decorating shopfronts with viscera), then preservation may also be a good way to go.

Lest we end our exploration of exploding whales without providing you with some useful info, if you come across any stranded marine mammals, here are the right steps to take.

Top header image: Tim Ellis, Flickr