Reporter Tells Story of Exploding Whale, Again

Television reporter Paul Linnman in Portland, Ore., was on the scene 35 years ago when authorities attempted to blow up a dead whale on the beach with dynamite, creating a blubber shower.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Sometimes here at NPR we find ways to mark anniversaries that other people just miss. Thirty-five years ago today authorities in Oregon blew up a dead gray whale on the beach near Florence with half a ton of dynamite. TV newsman Paul Linnman was on the scene to capture the moment and the unanticipated blowback of whale blubber.

(Soundbite of explosion)

Unidentified Woman #1: Whee, look at all that.

Unidentified Man: Oh, no.

(Soundbite of falling debris)

Unidentified Woman #2: Here comes pieces of--my God.

Mr. PAUL LINNMAN (KEX AM Radio): 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.

SIMON: The exploding whale has become the stuff of legend and lives on to this day, often replayed on the Internet. Paul Linnman joins us from KEX AM radio in Portland.

Paul, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. LINNMAN: Pleasure to be with you.

SIMON: Well, now with all regard to the authorities, nobody had anticipated that the shower of blubber would be this imposing?

Mr. LINNMAN: Well, they had a problem. There wasn't a good way to remove something this large at that time, and the thought was if we used a half ton of dynamite we will vaporize it and leave pieces so tiny the seagulls can take care of it. That was a misjudgment, and it's been since decided by the experts that they should have used more dynamite.

SIMON: Do you ever get tired of talking about this story?

Mr. LINNMAN: Well, yes and no. If I am on the street in downtown Portland, where I've been a broadcaster and a journalist for all these years, I'll get a three or four `Have you blown up any whales this morning, Paul?' And if I introduce the governor at a luncheon he'll ask me about blowing up whales. And, in some quarters, I'm an expert. When a whale blew up completely on its own--you might recall a couple years ago in Taiwan...

SIMON: Yes.

Mr. LINNMAN: ...sitting on a flatbed truck in the sun--the BBC called me and interviewed me for some of their shows as an exploding-whale expert. And it didn't matter. I told them, `Hey, I didn't blow the thing up; I was just there.' And they--it didn't matter, we did those interviews anyway.

SIMON: Have you ever covered another whale story?

Mr. LINNMAN: Well, you recall, we're the state where Keiko came...

SIMON: Oh, yes, of course.

Mr. LINNMAN: ...the "Free Willy" whale.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. LINNMAN: And so I went to Newport at that time to cover his arrival, and a number of elderly women were quite aghast to even see me on scene. And a few of them came up to me and said, `You're the person who blows them up. What are you doing here?' And so I guess that would have been one famous whale I covered after the exploding whale.

SIMON: Well, Paul, very nice talking to you.

Mr. LINNMAN: Scott, the pleasure was mine. If you don't mind my saying, it was an absolute blast.

SIMON: I bet you've done that more than once over the years, haven't you?

Mr. LINNMAN: I have.

SIMON: Paul Linnman is author of the book "The Exploding Whale and Other Remarkable Stories of the Evening News."

Twenty-two minutes before the hour.

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