Weekend Diversion: Blowing up a Whale

The humor of the entire situation suddenly gave way to a run for survival as huge chunks of whale blubber fell everywhere. Pieces of meat passed high over our heads while others were falling at our feet. The dunes were rapidly evacuated as spectators escaped both the falling debris and the overwhelming smell.
-Paul Linnman, News Reporter

This past week was my spring break, and my family and I went down to the Oregon coast. And while we were down there, we learned a little bit of local history. Namely, forty years ago, a huge, deceased whale washed up on one of the beaches, and nobody quite knew how to deal with it. Somehow, the only song I find appropriate is Sinnerman by Nina Simone.

So, how would you have dealt with this beached, dead whale? Would you have tried to push it back into the ocean? Would you have cut it up and disposed of the pieces? Or, like the state of Oregon, would you have tried to blow it up using about 1,000 lbs. of dynamite?

Let's go to the videotape.

And that, my friends, is what we call a bad idea.

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I remember when I was a kid (mid sixtys) that there was a washed up whale at the northern coast of the island Formentera. And it was there rotting away for some 30 years. It was a huge skull and bones, all white bleached. But even then it was virtually impossible to get near the thing because of the aroma. If I think of it I can still smell it.

Highway crews and their dynamite. LOL

A friend of mine in the early 70s was working with a winter crew in Western Kansas and came upon a hibernating ball of rattle snakes.

Out came the dynamite.

It killed some of them, but the rest were scattered to the 4 winds like the pieces of that whale. They spent the next week rounding up hundreds of grumpy rattle snakes, sorely pissed off at having been disturbed from their nice warm slumber.

The state of Oregon invented the Fail Whale long before Twitter did!

By Arancaytar (not verified) on 27 Mar 2010 #permalink

Dig a big hole and plant it - then mark the area and fence it off so it can be dug up again many years later to get a nice set of bones for a museum somewhere. :) If you have a lot of money, throw in a large number of sacks of quicklime to help speed up the dissolution of tissue (though all that blubber will be saponified - one giant smelly soap bar).

By MadScientist (not verified) on 29 Mar 2010 #permalink

when i saw the post i thought to myself "huh? they tried it again?" then i realized it is the same incident i heard about in the 90's.

i like all the people running away with bits of rotting whale flesh raining out of the sky. heh. and the crushed car. imagine explaining that to your insurance agent--"well, you see, this chunk of whale fell out of the sky..."

incidentally, there has been a web page about this for about 15 years...

theexplodingwhale dot com.

And what happened to the bowl of petunias?

By Bob Munck (not verified) on 04 Apr 2010 #permalink

I kept hoping that someone would explain the correct way to dispose of a dead whale. Several ideas come to my mind but they are all seriously flawed. Meaning not practical; i.e. $500 or $5,000 soultions.

But the really ironic thing is this. We scientists can't figure out how to properly explode or otherways dispose of a dead beached whale; and yet we have no hesitation in explaining how the universe came to be in a big bang or how it persists in some kind of steady state system. (I of course include myself in such criticism.)

So as we try to explain how our universe came to be or persists; I suggest that our limited scientific knowledge is put in perspective by reflecting upon our lack of knowledge of how to properly dispose of a dead whale.

Disposing of a dead whale is of course an engineering problem; but underlying that are scientific principles of electromagnetism (e.g. chemistry, melt the whale), of gravity (e.g. drop it in a suitcase size black hole), of nuclear physics (e.g. bombard it with gold nuclei accelerated to near the speed of light).

But of course all of these solutions probably won't work or are very expensive or dangerous. In the historic story, the highway department probably thought it had a $5,000 solution (costs of explosives, manpower and equipment); but when that didn't work; then they were left with maybe a $50,000 solution of manpower, equipment and damaged property.

The challenge is NOT if there is a $50,000 solution; but is there an environmentally friendly, human safe imaginitive $500 solution; i.e. that one man could accomplish with modest equipment in one day. Considering the tides, the wind, flotation and leverage; what would Archimedes or Leonardo suggests? Of course, their solutions might costs $50,000 in labor.

And if we modern scientists (myself included)can not think as imaginatively as Archimedes, Leonardo or even our Cro-Magnum ancestors about a dead beached whale; why do we thing our models of the universe are so much better mythology than the ancients. In my way of thinking; science is the (rational) mythology (storytelling) of our times.