35th anniversary interview (11/12/05)
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On November 12, 2005 — the 35th anniversary of the exploding whale — Scott Simon, host of NPR’s Morning Edition, interviewed Paul Linnman. The interview can be heard at NPR.org. A transcript of the interview appears below.
Interview by: Scott Simon, host of “Morning Edition” on National Public Radio
Date: November 12, 2005
Transcribed by: Steve Hackstadt
Reporter Tells Story of Exploding Whale, Again
Weekend Edition – Saturday, November 12, 2005 • 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.
Simon: 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 whale1 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 blow-back of whale blubber.
An audio clip from Linnman’s expoding whale news report plays. First you hear the sound of the explosion followed by spectators ooh-ing and ahh-ing. Then the sound of blubber chunks splattering on the ground can be heard. A woman calmly observes, “Here come pieces of….” Linnman reports, “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.” The clip fades out and Simon continues.
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.
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?
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’ve used more dynamite.
Simon: Do you ever get tired of talking about this story?
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 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 of years ago in Taiwan 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?
Linnman: Well, you’ll recall, we’re the state where Keiko came — the Free Willy whale. 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’ve been one famous whale I covered after the exploding whale.
Simon: Well, Paul, very nice talking to you.
Linnman: Scott, the pleasure was mine. If you don’t mind my saying, it was an absolute… blast.
Simon: (Laughs) I bet you’ve done that more once over the years, haven’t you?
Linnman: I have.
Simon: Paul Linnman is the author of the book The Exploding Whale and Other Remarkable Stories of [sic] the Evening News.
1. It has since been identified as a sperm whale.