An Oregon Park Has Been Named After The Infamous Exploding Whale Incident Of 1970

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockJun 26 2020, 13:07 UTC

A humpback whale breaching the water. Brett Atkins / Shutterstock

A beauty spot in Oregon has been named "Exploding Whale Memorial Park" after the infamous exploding whale incident of 1970, nearly 50 years ago.


The name was chosen in a vote that included other suggestions such as "Rolling Tides Community Park", "Dune View Park" and "Little Tree Park", according to Live Science. These were obviously always going to lose out to a name that involved a whale explosion. It wasn't even close. If you can put a whale explosion in a name, you just do.


If you're unfamiliar with the story of the exploding whale of Florence, Oregon – which also happens to be a surprisingly prescient analogy for the importance of social distancing – strap in because it's one hell of a ride. 

In November 1970, an 8-ton sperm whale beached itself on the Oregon coast. The highway division took charge of the situation as it fell under their jurisdiction. They decided in their wisdom, and upon advice from the Navy (who are known for their fondness for blowing things up), to blow the whale up in order to get rid of the body, attempting to aim it towards the ocean. The theory was it would leave the smaller more digestible (and let's face it, cooked) bits of whale for smaller animals, including seagulls, to chow down on.

So far, so disgusting, but hardly anything to name a park after. Now you'd think if you were going to blast a whale to smithereens you'd sit down and have a bit of a think about how much dynamite was necessary, rather than just put 20 crates underneath it and see what happens. Or maybe at least listen to somebody with explosives training when they tell you "I think you've overdone the old dynamite if I'm honest." Well, you'd be wrong.


Businessman Walt Umenhofer was on a drive around Florence in a brand new car he'd bought a few days earlier from a car dealership offering a "whale of a deal" promotion (this will become relevant later) when he happened upon the scene. Umenhofer had received explosives training during World War II and was not convinced the highway division had got their calculations right. He told them they either needed a lot fewer explosives to push it out to sea – he suggested 20 sticks, where they were using 20 crates – or a hell of a lot more in order to completely obliterate the carcass. The head of the project dismissed him, and he retreated as far as he could to watch the inevitable disaster, along with local journalists documenting the whole thing and citizens who just fancied a bit of a gawp.

Before the grim spectacle unfolded, project manager George Thornton told reporters "well, I'm confident that it'll work, the only thing is we're not sure how much explosives it'll take to disintegrate this thing."

As you can see in the video, the explosion caused massive pieces of blubber to get blown quite some distance onto buildings, cars in parking lots, and people who had previously been minding their own business and enjoying how whale blubber wasn't currently raining down from the sky.


“Explosions in the movies usually look like a blast of fire and smoke," one journalist in attendance that day, Paul Linnman, later described the incident. "This one more resembled a mighty burst of tomato juice.”

The whale debris rained down so far away some hit the new car of Walt Umenhofer, completely caving in the roof.

"My insurance company's never going to believe this," Umenhofer reportedly said as a highway worker removed the blubber from his car with a shovel. 


After all this, the project manager told reporters that "it went just exactly right," except for the blast creating a hole underneath the whale, and thereby causing the whale to be blasted towards the onlookers, creating the meaty downpour.

All in all, this is the kind of history that needs to be remembered. You can see why it makes a great name for a park.