SoCal Whale Disposal Dilemma

Southern California has recently been confronted with figuring out how best to dispose of a huge, 60-ton blue whale carcass. The rotting hulk was towed into harbor for examination by scientists on September 22, and after being dissected and having several internal organs removed, the whale was towed out to sea. A few days later, it washed up on a Malibu beach where lifeguards had a go out at the stinking leviathan. They also tried towing it out to sea in hopes that it would sink, but as of October 4, it had returned to a Malibu sandbar.

A recent article in the LA Times did a nice job of surveying the undesirable disposal options. Naturally, Oregon’s Exploding Whale was cited early on in the article:

What to do with a dead whale is no small problem….

Blow it up and you just might end up showering blubber on hapless spectators, as did the state of Oregon in a 1970 incident still kept pungently alive on the Internet and in columns by humorist Dave Barry.

(“pungently alive on the Internet” — I can only take that as a compliment!)

An examination of the the other trepidatious options follows. These include: just walking away (“That’s not really possible on a coastline dotted with beaches, campgrounds, prized surfing spots and homes of the rich and famous.”)…. sinking it (“30 or 40 tons of blubber… floats really well. It’s like saying, ‘How many anchors do I have to hang on the side of a 30-ton boat to sink it?’ “)…. burning it (” ‘It smells like the left wing of the Day of Judgment,” [Melville] wrote. ‘It is an argument for the pit.’ “)…. burying it (“Oils from a buried whale at San Onofre State Beach… attracted white sharks to the storied surfing spot in 2003.”).

Lamenting the dearth of viable options, the article returns to Oregon’s incident before ending:

For all that, nobody is suggesting that Southern California emulate Oregon in dealing with the 10 or so whales that wash up on its shores yearly.

On Nov. 12, 1970, Oregon highway workers, in collaboration with the Navy, used half a ton of dynamite to blow up a beached whale near the coastal town of Florence. A 15-square-foot chunk of blubber demolished the roof of a Buick parked a quarter-mile away.

[Bruce] Mate, the Oregon biologist, was there.

“I arrived as a young scientist and said, ‘I’d like to get in here and get some samples and measurements,’ ” he recalled. “They said, ‘OK, sonny, you’ve got about half an hour.’ ”

When the time came, Mate was ready, he said. “I moved to a faraway dune and watched it rain rancid oil all over the place.”

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