An Oregon highway engineer who blew up a dead beached whale with a half-ton of dynamite in 1970 has died 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, said Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Don Hamilton. Thornton was a highly respected engineer who worked 37 years at the agency, he said.
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.”
Ed Shoaps, then a public information officer for ODOT, said 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.
“We all know what happened after that,” said Shoaps.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.