Blubber Rain: Lessons from an Exploding Whale Carcass

Bone fragments, chunks of rotting whale meat, slabs of stinking blubber, droplets of liquids, and a fine mist of various carcass fluids all rained down from a clear sky. Over the ocean? On a deserted beach? No. On a crowd of 75 fleeing spectators and their cars filling makeshift parking lots outside of Florence, Oregon, in 1970.

Apocalypse? Flying slaughterhouse at 30,000 feet? No. Just one well-meaning engineer doing what sincerely seemed right to him. Four days earlier, a 45-foot sperm whale carcass had washed up dead on the beach. Carried on sea breezes, aromas of rot wafted into businesses and homes nearby. Highway engineer George Thornton opposed burying or cutting up the carcass, wanting instead to blow the eight tons of wayward whale to bits with a half-ton of dynamite. Thornton was convinced it would be disintegrated and any large chunks would then be further eliminated by seagulls and other scavengers. The whole ordeal can still be “enjoyed” on YouTube here.

Proverbs 14:12 says that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” While no one died from the blast, television reporter Paul Linnam said that it “blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.” Indeed, it went wrong. Very wrong. Especially for local resident and once-enthusiastic spectator Walter Umenhofer—one chunk was large enough to crush his parked 1969 Oldsmobile a quarter-mile away. “When they touched that sucker off, let me tell you: that thing went up and it was the biggest mushroom cloud you’ve ever seen,” he said later. “It was red and white and black and it was nothing but guts and blood and gunk.”

The crowd began retching from the overpowering atomized rot. Spectators and news reporters alike fled. Damage was minimal other than lingering stink from the blubber rain, and our clever engineer George Thornton strangely felt the effort an outright success when interviewed. Reporter Larry Bacon reminisced recently that “It was kind of funny because I interviewed him afterward, and he said it went exactly right… Except, the dynamite cases funneled down into the sand and directed the explosion straight up.”

Don’t we all suffer from stinking thinking sometimes? In an age where information overload teaches us to “Trust your gut” and “Go with your instinct,” we too often see that strategy fall apart. No matter what one’s intentions are or how one envisions something, there is this thing called reality. And sometimes, reality stinks. Popular phrases like “Speak your truth” and “Define your own reality” can smell like roses, but just because “Moses supposes” does not make his “toeses roses.”

At some point, we have to become aware of the lunacy of the philosophies taught in schools and popular culture. When in college, I took basic coursework in philosophy. At first, some of the philosophy seemed a fun cognitive diversion from mathematics and science. However, it quickly acquired the weight of a shallow cartoon, as I realized man’s imaginations and arguments merely exalt himself (2 Corinthians 10:5). Human thoughts and speculations are futile and foolish (Romans 1:21). Human eyes see “strange things” and human hearts “utter perverse things” (Proverbs 23:33). My teachers and mentors over the years have given some small, decent pieces of practical advice—but, at some point, their “minds the god of this age has blinded” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

What are we left with? Are the details of human history books impeccable? Is the consensus of science flawless? Does a Ph.D. after one’s name make him/her infallible? Is an engineer immune to having a case of stinking thinking? Regarding big questions about who we are, life’s ultimate meaning, and what principles should guide our life decisions, we have a better source of answers; “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105). The Bible is sure and infallible. It is a torch to hold up in a sometimes scary, uncertain, and even stinky world.

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