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'Exploding Whale Memorial Park' honors whale that went out with a bang

Next to the park's new sign is "Flo the Whale," a mascot that a local community member created in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the exploding whale event.
Next to the park's new sign is "Flo the Whale," a mascot that a local community member created in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the exploding whale event.
(Image: © Courtesy of the City of Florence)

A newly-named Oregon park commemorates an important (and gory) piece of local history: the dynamiting of a dead whale that took place 50 years ago. 

"Exploding Whale Memorial Park" in Florence, Oregon, is named for the explosive event of Nov. 12, 1970, when local officials blew up a beached and decomposing sperm whale measuring 45 feet (14 meters) long and weighing about 8 tons (7 metric tons). 

Local news stations filmed the spectacular explosion, which had the unfortunate aftermath of showering everything — and everyone — in the immediate vicinity with bits of dead whale.

Related: Top 10 greatest explosions ever 

November would have marked the 50th anniversary of the whale's big bang, and the town, on the southern Oregon coast, planned to announce the park's new name in May at the 113th annual Florence Rhododendron Festival, which had a special theme this year: "Blast from the Past." 

But the festival had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the City of Florence unveiled the park's new sign in a dedication ceremony on June 13, the Siuslaw News reported today (June 17). The park is located along the Siuslaw River on Rhododendron Drive.

Of 124 names that people in the community initially proposed for the park, nine were picked as finalists, with the winner to be decided in a "Name the Park" survey, City of Florence representatives said in a statement. 

Most of the names on the list spoke to the site's natural beauty: "Rolling Tides Community Park," "Dune View Park" and "Little Tree Park" were several of the less gruesome options. But "Exploding Whale Memorial Park" won in a landslide, with 439 votes of the 856 submitted, according to the statement.

Florence residents overwhelmingly voted to name this idyllic spot after an exploded whale.

Florence residents overwhelmingly voted to name this idyllic spot after an exploded whale. (Image credit: Courtesy of the City of Florence)

Blasted blubber

In 1970, the dead, decaying sperm whale that washed up near Florence posed a serious health hazard. It was too big to drag away or bury, and officials decided to get rid of the stinking corpse with dynamite,  blasting it into manageable, bite-size chunks that scavenging birds and crabs would then clean up, according to the Oregon Historical Society (OHS).

But when engineers set off the half-ton of explosives, "the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds," Paul Linnman, a reporter who filmed the explosion for Portland news station KATU, said at the time.

"The humor of the situation suddenly gave way to a run for survival, as huge chunks of whale blubber fell everywhere," Linnman said. "Pieces of meat passed high over our heads, while others were falling at our feet."

Spectators fled in all directions, escaping the awful smell and the rain of rotting whale flesh. One particularly hefty slab landed on an unoccupied parked car about a quarter-mile (0.4 kilometers) from the blast site, crushing the roof. Everyone nearby was drenched with dead whale, Linnman said.

Musician Dan Tanz further described the gruesome scene in 2016, in a haunting banjo tune, "The Exploding Whale Song." 

"It covered the diner and laundromat, with bits of blood and bone; It covered the old Ben Franklin with a wash of rancid foam," Tanz sang.

After the explosion, much of the whale's body was still in big chunks that were much too large for small scavengers to carry away, and the demolition crew ended up burying the carcass pieces on the beach, Linnman reported. 

Current policy in the state of Oregon dictates that beached, dead whales must be buried and not blown up, according to the OHS.

Today, the Exploded Whale Memorial Park's iconic sand dunes are a peaceful and gore-free sight. The rest of the park includes picnic tables, a grassy lawn and views of the Siuslaw River and Bridge, according to the City of Florence website.

But however idyllic the park may be, its name ensures that the memory of that long-dead whale's messy ending will never die.

Originally published on Live Science.

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