Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Whale of a Tale

Image found on Amazon

I am an avid reader. A voracious reader. Especially during a flare, when I have days of downtime to fill. I check out a fair amount of books from our local library, but would much rather own the books that I read. This probably has more to do with the amount of money that I've paid in library fines than anything else...

So John and I made a trip to the Goodwill store a couple days ago. What a great place to score really inexpensive books. And what an eclectic selection - the books are very loosely categorized so when browsing the stacks, you never know what gem of unique reading will be there.

On this latest trip, my gem discovery was a book of local history, written by Paul Linnman and entitled "The Exploding Whale". Linnman is a local television/radio personality and has covered news stories in the Portland, OR area for his entire professional career. Apparently, back in 1970 or thereabouts, this young reporter and his sidekick cameraman were assigned the task of covering what everyone in the newsroom had assumed would be a non-event - the disposal of an enormous whale carcass washed up on the southern Oregon shoreline. It turned out to be the story that would solidify Linnman's career. Here's how Dave Barry, famous columnist from the Miami Herald described the event:
The Farside Comes to Life in Oregon
By Dave Barry (1990)
By Dave Barry

(click for info)
I am absolutely not making this incident up; in fact I have it all on videotape. The tape is from a local TV news show in Oregon, which sent a reporter out to cover the removal of a 45-foot, eight-ton dead whale that washed up on the beach. The responsibility for getting rid of the carcass was placed upon the Oregon State Highway Division, apparently on the theory that highways and whales are very similar in the sense of being large objects.
So anyway, the highway engineers hit upon the plan — remember, I am not making this up — of blowing up the whale with dynamite. The thinking here was that the whale would be blown into small pieces, which would be eaten by sea gulls, and that would be that. A textbook whale removal.
So they moved the spectators back up the beach, put a half-ton of dynamite next to the whale and set it off. I am probably not guilty of understatement when I say that what follows, on the videotape, is the most wonderful event in the history of the universe. First you see the whale carcass disappear in a huge blast of smoke and flame. Then you hear the happy spectators shouting “Yayy!” and “Whee!” Then, suddenly, the crowd’s tone changes. You hear a new sound like “splud.” You hear a woman’s voice shouting “Here come pieces of… MY GOD!” Something smears the camera lens. 
Later, the reporter explains: “The humor of the entire situation suddenly gave way to a run for survival as huge chunks of whale blubber fell everywhere.” One piece caved in the roof of a car parked more than a quarter of a mile away. Remaining on the beach were several rotting whale sectors the size of condominium units. There was no sign of the sea gulls, who had no doubt permanently relocated in Brazil. This is a very sobering videotape. Here at the institute we watch it often, especially at parties. But this is no time for gaiety. This is a time to get hold of the folks at the Oregon State Highway division and ask them, when they get done cleaning up the beaches, to give us an estimate on the US Capitol.
Now, I know that the death of a beautiful sea creature is no laughing matter. But the whale died long before washing up on the coast. Which somehow makes it easier for me to chortle over the debacle that ensued. Here's the actual footage from the television broadcast:

Oh, man. Why would anyone bother to read fiction when reality is so much more entertaining??


Sjogren's Chick said...

Is it sad I'm so old I actually remember this?!

Anonymous said...

I loooove the exploding whale story. Oh my stars the stupid.

annie said...

I'm old enough to remember this story, but I don't. Could they not have done something less invasive to the poor dead whale, instead of scattering body parts all over people and things?

I, also, love to read, and do so all the time, but I can't read for long as I can't concentrate and then I feel like I'm falling asleep. Even reading makes me tired!!! Does anyone else have this problem?

Julia Oleinik said...

So, in reading the book, Linnmann explains how the highway department came to be given this task, (I did not know that the Oregon coastline is actually legally a highway) how the department supervisors took off on a fishing trip, and then left this poor highway dept. worker with the task of figuring out how to get rid of the whale. He had apparently checked with every "expert" he could think of, and all had no suggestions for him.

The whale washed up on a beach area that had a great deal of rock under the sand, and he didn't think he could bury it deep enough to avoid it surfacing again. Couldn't tow it anywhere since it was eight tons and thoroughly decayed. So he blew it up. With the disastrous results.

Apparently the gentleman responsible for the decision is still cranky (40 years later) when people question him about it. Can't say as I blame him.

Jenny P said...

Julia- Thanks for this, this had my husband and I laughing our way into our respective days (he had to work today). You're always so full of funny news!

Annie- Yes, I do too. I've ALWAYS been a VORACIOUS reader (if an attrocious speller, sorry). When I was younger, my mom learned to give up on getting me to come to dinner, go to bed, or in any other way interupt my book. Over summers, we resorted to the suggested reading lists for other grades to keep me in tomes. Now, a chapter or two takes about all I have, and a WHOLE lot longer than it used to. Not to mention the eye pain it invokes.... Bah humbug. Well, at least I can still read, and maybe it'll force me to reduce my book budget since I can't read them as fast:)