One place I wanted to visit on the Oregon Coast is Florence. Why? It’s the setting of the exploding whale.
In 1970, an eight ton, 45 foot long, sperm whale washed ashore on South Jetty Beach near Florence. While this must have been a local attraction for a short time, the dead whale began to smell. And the stench began to turn heads. The breeze off the Pacific Ocean was blowing the stench of the rotting whale right into downtown Florence.
How do you get rid of an eight ton whale? Well the Oregon State Highway Division had an idea, a very optimistic idea for a very large problem.
First they had to discount other ideas. Burying the whale meant the constant wave action would expose the copse before too long. To tow it out to sea by boat would be costly in diesel fuel because you would have to tow the whale far enough out so it would not be returned again by the tides to South Jetty Beach. The whale could be cut up and then buried but that would require a very large chain saw and a lot of labor. So of course they went with the cheaper solution: dynamite.
In fact, half a ton of dynamite.
So on November 12, 1970, dynamite was placed under the whale with the intention that it would be blown into smithereens and what was left of the sperm whale would be taken care of by gulls and other scavengers.
Locals came out as if they where going out on an afternoon picnic to watch the spectacle. The dunes to the east of the whale provided a natural sloped amphitheater. Some spectators were a little too close and they where moved a quarter of a mile away from the dynamited corpse.
Then the countdown began and the dynamite was detonated sending sand and fire and whale bits, 100 feet into the air. What blows up, must come down and flaming whale parts began raining down on the spectators who were now where running for their lives. One large piece of sperm whale landed on a parked Oldsmobile, crushing it.
What was left of the whale, once the sand cleared? Well a whole lotta whale.
The Exploding Whale of Florence, Oregon has now become part of folklore. It is the type of story, when retold, the listener grows incredulous, doubting that this could really ever happen. But it did.
The town of Florence has embraced it’s erupted cetacean past. In 2019, the Exploding Whale Memorial Park was established along the northern tidal banks of the Siuslaw River.
The setting of the scene of the exploding whale still exists and I headed out to South Jetty Beach with my sketching chair and started to sketch the beach facing north (featured sketch). And parts of the eight ton sperm whale still exists in the the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum. In the museum, in a glass case, are bones, including vertebrae, of the failed dynamiting of the sperm whale. Included in the sketch is the whale’s vertebrae in the left side of the featured sketch before I headed out on my South Jetty Beach sketching adventure.