10/20/2014

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Man behind the exploding whale debacle dies at 84

Man behind the exploding whale debacle dies at 84
KATU file photo.
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PORTLAND, Ore. - The man who made the decision to blow up a dead whale on the Oregon coast - in a blunder that will forever be a legendary footnote in the state's history - has passed away.

His name was George Thornton and he was a highway engineer for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) at the time. He died Sunday at age 84 in Medford.

After a dead whale washed up in Florence in November of 1970, ODOT, with Thornton at the lead, came up with a plan to get rid of it. The idea was to blow it up into tiny pieces and let the seagulls take it from there.

But it didn't work out as planned. Instead, giant pieces of blubber were sent flying into the air. The blubber rained down on the immediate area and a large piece even landed on a car.

And for those who were there, including a young Paul Linnman, who was reporting for KATU News at the time, the stench was incredible. Linnman has even said that he can still smell it to this day.

Of course, there was a lesson learned in all of this - you can't simply blow up a dead whale and hope the problem will go away. There's a famous line from Linnman's report in 1970 where he says "it might be concluded that should a whale ever wash ashore in Lane County again, those in charge will not only remember what to do, they'll certainly remember what not to do."

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