November 12, 1970. A day which will live in local TV news infamy until the end of time itself. Thanks to KATU in Oregon for remastering the footage. Here's the way they described it on their website a year ago, on the 49th anniversary:
It was the whale explosion seen ‘round the world. ...
When a 45-foot, 8-ton whale washed ashore on a beach near Florence in November 1970, the Department of Transportation had a stinky situation on its hands. They had to figure out what to do with the massive corpse.
It had been so long since a whale had washed up in Lane County, that no one could remember how to get rid of one.
In selecting its battle plan, the Oregon State Highway Department decided the carcass couldn't be buried because it might be uncovered. It couldn't be cut up and then buried because no one wanted to cut it up, and it couldn't be burned, so dynamite it was - some 20 cases, or a half ton of it.
Anything left over, officials reasoned, would be taken care of by seagulls and other scavengers.
KATU’s Paul Linnman was at the scene reporting and recording when the blubber went “boom.” The camera stopped rolling immediately after the blast, but Linnman recalls making his way out of the area as huge chunks of blubber fell everywhere.
A parked car over a quarter of a mile from the blast site was the target of one last chunk. Fortunately, no one was hurt as badly as the car. However, everyone was covered with small particles of dead whale.
Truly this is why Philo T. Farnsworth invented the medium of transmitting moving images by radio waves and box to receive them with. Not for JFK's assassination or the moon landing or 9/11. For this very moment. The pinnacle of television journalism. And it's been all downhill for local news ever since. And with the sheer poetry of, "The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds," Paul Linnman became the bard of 1970s America.
More than anything, it taught us about life on this planet. How human beings came from the sea and are still connected to the sea. How we are in kinship with the majestic, gentle giant mammals of the ocean. Until the wash up on shore and are left there to rot into stinking, bloated bags of decaying matter and gas. Then we're reminded of that other thing we love: Blowing shit up. Standing from a distance we think is safe, only to have fetid whale guts fall down from the heavens like a rainstorm of blood. So the whole exercise becomes like a very grim, marine animal themed episode of "Mythbusters." And while I can't say for sure, I'd like to think this seminal moment in broadcast journalism inspired the "SCTV" bit where they liked to blow stuff up real good.
So thank you, KATU, Paul Linneman, the Oregon State Highway Department and that whale for providing us this treasured memory. I wish we still knew how to have this sort of macabre, reckless fun.