‘Blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds’

The Exploding Whale was memorialized once again in Florence on Nov. 12. “Whale Go Boom” is the unofficial catchphrase of the event, which featured professional mermaids, whale mascots Flo and Rence (pictured) and a pinata, set ablaze with fireworks after a week-long celebration. Photo by Jared Anderson/Siuslaw News

Florence celebrates 52nd anniversary of the exploding whale

Nov. 14, 2022 — Florence marked the 52nd anniversary of the Exploding Whale in Florence last week, starting with a city-wide proclamation on Nov. 7 and culminating in an all-day party at Homegrown Public House and Brewery, along with a walking tour of displays celebrating the famous Florence whale throughout the city.

“We’re going to raise our glass and ‘cheers to the whale,’” said Homegrown owner and event co-organizer Elaine McMillan. “We will not blow up any more whales — we’ve learned our lesson.”

The event was capped off Saturday, Nov. 12, by a whale pinata that was set ablaze with an array of fireworks.

“We should celebrate something that we’re known for worldwide,” said event co-organizer Terry Hankins. “And why not learn from our mistakes and celebrate those?”

The explosion of the whale has become a worldwide sensation.

“On Nov. 9, 1970, a deceased 45-foot long, eight-ton sperm whale washed ashore in Florence, just south of South Jetty, across the river from our new Exploding Whale Memorial Park,” stated Florence Mayor Joe Henry in a proclamation describing the original event during the council meeting.

While it was unknown why the whale washed up, “after consulting several sources, it was decided to attempt to dispose of its rotting carcass with explosives, and dynamite was detonated on Nov. 12 at 3:45 p.m,” the proclamation explained.

The resulting explosion sent huge chunks of whale blubber falling everywhere, some so big that they damaged nearby parked cars.

“Pieces of meat passed high over our heads, while others were falling at our feet,” KATU television news reporter Paul Linnman said in a now infamous report that covered the event.

“The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”

Years later, when YouTube first went online, video of Linnman’s report became one of the internet's first viral videos, and has been parodied in shows including “The Simpsons” and “Saturday Night Live.”

“...Thanks for helping us keep the whale that will never die alive forever,” Linnman wrote in a letter to the organizers of last week’s event.

Beginning before 2020, which marked the 50th anniversary, Florence’s Exploding Whale Celebration has grown organically over the years, bringing in people from across the country.

Dan Craig, who goes by the name “Merman Dan,” came from North Carolina to help co-host the event, along with “Mermaid Shannon” Dawn Rauch.

Craig first learned of the exploding whale through social media years ago.

“It was just the absurdity of it all, and I’m an absurd being — I’m a merman” he said. “There was a connection you really cannot explain.”

The connection led him to begin work on a musical about the subject, and travel to Florence to celebrate. Upon seeing the beautiful topography of the area, he said, “I’m literally looking at real estate.”

Beyond the fame of the explosion itself, the term “exploding whale” has taken on deeper meaning, with the Urban Dictionary defining the phrase as “an action that has good intent, but has quite unexpected and possibly messy consequences.”

“It’s about learning from our mistakes and embracing each other as a community,” said event co-organizer Jo Beaudreau.

Around six years ago, she and local artist Ed Gunderson began an art project looking to celebrate the event, resparking interest in the incident, leading up to the 50th anniversary.

“Here’s the beautiful things that Ed Gunderson said — ‘This is what Florence should be proud of!’” Hankins said.

For more information about the event and the Exploding Whale Trail, visit www.xplodingwhale.com.