An Oregon highway engineer who famously blew up a dead beached whale with a half-ton of dynamite in 1970 died last Sunday at the age of 84. George Thomas Thornton gained national attention over the exploding whale, and the act endured for decades thanks to a video that shows giant pieces of whale carcass splattering across the beach and spectators. Thornton got the call Nov. 12, 1970, to remove a 45-foot-long sperm whale estimated to weigh 8 tons that had washed up near Florence and had started to stink; at the time, the state Highway Division had jurisdiction over beaches.
Thornton felt they couldn't haul the whale out to sea because it would wash back up. They couldn't bury it on the beach, because the waves would uncover it. And they couldn't burn it. So Thornton consulted the Navy and other munitions experts, and was advised to blow it up. His crew set the dynamite on the landward side of the whale, hoping to blow it into the water and into little pieces that could be consumed by gulls and crabs. About 75 spectators and news reporters drew back to a sand dune a quarter mile away. When the blast erupted, it was greeted with cries of wonder that were soon replaced by sounds of revulsion as bits of whale covered people in goo; one big chunk even flattened the roof of a car. Thornton had refused to talk about the exploding whale for many years, once remarking that every time he did, "it blew up in my face." (Read more obituary stories.)