Hugh Gray was walking along a loch after church when he spotted a brouhaha in the nearby water. As he looked on a massive creature rose up from the lake. The quick-thinking Scotsman took several pictures of it (why he had a camera when he had been to church is anyone’s guess). Only one of the pictures he took on November 12, 1933, turned out; it looked a lot like a plesiosaur frolicking in the water. Some naysayers suggest it looked more like a dog carrying a stick swimming towards the camera, but the legend of the Loch Ness Monster was born nevertheless, as was the science of cryptozoology, the study of animals that don’t exist (such as Bigfoot and Alien Big Cats).
While Nessie, as those on a first-name basis call it, is a bona fide cryptid, the monster that showed up on a beach just south of Florence, Oregon, on November 12, 1970, was not. It was the real thing – an 8-ton, 45-foot-long sperm whale. For a while the creature, which had been dead for some time, was a curiosity for locals and visitors alike, something more dramatic than the typical flotsam and seashells they usually found on the beach. But then it began to smell.
The task of dealing with the carcass fell to the state Highway Division, and it presented a monster problem. If the carcass were buried, it would simply be uncovered by the ocean tides. Oregon officials consulted U.S. Navy officials (division of cetacean disposal) and hatched the ingenious plan to blast the behemoth into a billion bits of blubber using a bunch of dynamite – little morsels that would then be devoured by seagulls.
The engineer in charge of the operation said that he wasn’t exactly sure how much dynamite would be needed, but a half ton of dynamite was finally applied to the carcass. Walter Umenhofer, a military veteran with explosives training, happened to be beachcombing at the scene. He warned the engineer that the amount of dynamite he was using was a tad excessive – 20 sticks was about right, not the 20 cases that were being used. Umenhofer said the engineer was not interested in his advice.
Needless to say, the explosion didn’t go as planned. The blast pulverized only part of the whale, sending pieces soaring — not toward the ocean, as hoped, but toward people watching from the dunes. No onlookers were seriously hurt, but they were pelted by bits of smelly blubber. And as an added thanks for butting in, Walter Umenhofer’s brand-new Oldsmobile was flattened by a chunk of falling blubber after the blast. He had just bought the Ninety-Eight in Eugene, during a “Get a Whale of a Deal” promotion.
After onlookers scurried away, the Highway Division crew buried the remaining whale. The seagulls who were supposed to dine on whale tidbits were found wandering in a daze in Utah and Wyoming.
In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra. ~ Fran Lebowitz