50 Years Ago: Exploding Whale

Today in 1970, authorities in Oregon detonated a beached whale, unwittingly creating one of the biggest viral video of all time

On November 9, 1970, a 45-foot sperm whale washed ashore in Florence, OR. As the creature decomposed on the beach, a distinct smell wafted into town. The locals grew anxious, and a bit nauseous. Finally, the highway patrol arrived. For a few days, they pondered their options. Bury it? Cut it up? Burn it? No solution seemed quite right, but the stench was worsening, so they settled on a decisive course of action: Blow it up!

And so 50 years ago today, a half-ton of dynamite was detonated under an 8-ton beached whale. As it turns out, that was overkill. Mammalian marine guts spewed everywhere, raining down on townsfolk. A quarter-mile away, cars were smashed with chunks of cetacean carcass.

This story remained a local legend for two decades, until the early ’90s, when the newspaper columnist Dave Barry mentioned seeing footage of the exploding beast. Soon after, a video clip went viral on the internet, long before “going viral on the internet” was even a thing. Here is that clip, which KATU in Portland recently remastered into HD 4K gory glory:

For me personally, “exploding whale” remains one of my earliest internet memories. On a deep midwestern college campus, some dude in a trenchcoat at a computer lab asked me, “Hey, have you seen exploding whale yet?” Um, no. He then opened Netscape and typed in a .edu domain, followed by a cacophony of slashes and tildes. After a couple minutes of buffering — boom, there were marine innards exploding all over my monitor. It felt like a time machine, via Windows 95. (Eventually that website moved to TheExplodingWhale.com, which survives to this day.)

A 2006 BBC story ranked Exploding Whale the fifth-biggest viral video of all time, after such hits as Star Wars Kid, Numa Numa, and Paris Hilton sex tape.