Reporting from Florence, November 1970

Newscaster Paul Linnman reporting from Florence after officials decided to blow up a beached whale in 1970.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, is that many of us have more of a need to find ways to remove our minds from this situation. Thus, we turn to avenues that may be less than ideal to help distract us from this challenging situation.

I’ve found myself passing extra time by scrolling through social media, amongst other activities. I’ve seen pictures and posts of all kinds. Many were quite disgusting, pointing blame or inappropriately expressing frustration about this situation. Others were very uplifting, including those of my friends and network that shared the stories of their homeschooling, nature pictures or funny memes.

While scrolling through this week, I saw a posting that offered the rare combination of diversion and helpful information as we deal with this situation and what has become a very different life for each of us.

The post was offered by a city in England called Doncaster. Doncaster is significantly larger than Seaside, featuring a population of over 300,000. Thus, they must have some resources that smaller cities and towns may not have. The Doncaster Twitter account likened the current pandemic to one of my favorite anecdotes in the history of Oregon.

In 1970, a 45-foot sperm whale washed ashore in Florence, a little more than 150 miles from Seaside. Oregon beaches at that time were under control of ODOT who, after consultation with the U.S. Navy and other experts, made the decision to remove the whale using dynamite, the assumption being that the small pieces of remaining whale would be quickly consumed by birds and other animals.

The result of this decision produced one of the great and hilarious moments in YouTube viewing history. The explosion was, in a word, inadequate. Pieces of whale blubber and carcass were carried to areas away from the beach and birds and other animals were scared away by the large explosion.

The Doncaster Council account recounted this now comical decision to share some lessons learned in that experience that are helpful now as we sort through the uncertainty of our current situation. They shared that at the time, the officials in Florence needed to choose from three different options.

First, they could leave the whale to decompose. Second, they could try to cut the carcass into smaller pieces and then bury it. Lastly, they could blow the whale up with dynamite and hope for a quick and natural resolution. As you might guess, many of the scientific experts recommended option one or two.

The officials making the decision felt that leaving the body in place or burying it would be unpleasant and quite smelly for the beachgoers and community. A half-ton of dynamite was used by the engineer in charge and that amount was mostly random, as there wasn’t a great deal of expertise and experience in this area.

The plan was executed poorly and the end result was nearly disastrous. It is still a humorous story to me, and one that I’m grateful didn’t happen in our era of social media and political divisiveness.

The social media account went on to relate how this story relates to the current pandemic.

First, they exhorted the public to not ignore the advice that experts give you. Second, sometimes its better to just sit at home and do nothing than go outside and do something ridiculous. Nature has a funny way of handling things on its own. Third, when you ignore expert advice and act foolishly, the result is sometime unintended, but the potentially disastrous results could have been prevented. They closed the story with a plea to their followers to stay home and stop being selfish.

Far be it from me to overstep my expertise in this area but I, alongside the Doncaster council, and other experts ask us all to stay patient, and have faith that this situation will improve in time.

I hope you are all safe, healthy and well and I hope to see you soon.

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