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  • David Stack

The Story of the Exploding Whale and How to Make Bad Decisions


On a recent car journey with my 9 year old son, I was trying to help him decide whether he would prefer to go to Gymnastics or Football training that evening, since both events happened to unfortunately and unusually coincide with one another. It was a fascinating insight into the mind of a 9 year old, but also into the mechanics and processes we go through when trying to make a decision.

From the moment we jump out of bed in the morning, to the moment we crawl back in again, our lives are full of decisions. In fact, our lives are a culmination and result of all the decisions we have ever made. Some big, some small, some insignificant, others so impactful that they may have changed the very direction in which we now travel.

The conversation with my son ended with a typical question......

"Daddy, what's the worst decision you ever made?"

Overcoming the obvious flippant and jovial responses, I managed to swerve the direct answer and think of something that would appeal to a child and bring alive the subject of decision making and how sometimes even "professionals" can make the wrong decision.

My mind was drawn back to a news clip that a friend had shared with me several years previously and for some reason had stuck in my memory.

The Story of the Exploding Whale recounts the events of November 1970, when a 45ft, 8 tonne whale was washed onto the Oregon shoreline.

At first it was a curiosity for local residents and visiting beachcombers. But the beached behemoth became a stinking mess as the foul smell of rotting whale wafted through the dunes. Because the Oregon beach is a public right of way, the state Highway Division was given the task of cleaning up the mess.

And here is where the decision making process kicks in. How do you dispose of a 45ft, 8 tonne mound of stinking blubber? Well, you blow it up of course!! All other options were discounted, including burying it as it was felt that the carcass would soon be uncovered by the ocean tides. So officials at the Department of the Navy were consulted, and a plan was hatched to blast the blubber to smithereens using a half-ton of dynamite. What little was left would be eaten by seagulls.

Needless to say, it wasn't a well thought out decision. The blast only exploded part of the whale, and instead of sending the huge pieces of blubber toward the sea as planned, the encroaching crowd of people were covered in flying chunks of whale blubber. Thankfully, no onlookers were hurt, although a 3-foot by 5-foot piece of foul-smelling, rotting whale blubber did soar a quarter-mile through the air, arching gracefully over a crowd of spectators perched on the sand dunes overlooking the Pacific Ocean and crushed the top of an onlooker's car. Try explaining that one to the insurance company.

Furthermore, the massive blast and noise of the explosion, scared away all the seagulls that were supposed to help scavenge the remaining debris. As it was, the rather large remains of the Whale were everntually buried and everyone was left to wander home to scrub whale juice from their bodies.

When 41 sperm whales beached nearby in 1979, state parks officials decide to burn and bury them and to my knowledge, no one has blown a whale up since!

So anyway, back to my story. You can imagine a 9 year old boy's laughter and enjoyment at such a story. Slightly exaggerated and embellished by an overly creative father, but the the thought of people running around dodging chunks or whale flesh and being covered in rotting juice, certainly appealed to his imagination.

So, yes, that was a pretty bad decision. Taking a step back, anyone could have seen that blowing such a huge animal up with dynamite was clearly not a great idea. Allowing onlookers so close, was probably also not well thought through. They guy in charge of explosives was advised that 25 sticks would be enough, but he "decided" to use 25 cases for added effect.

The rest of the car journey with my son was filled with giggles and laughter, imagining the scene on that day. The outcome was that it took his mind away from the details of his decision and gave him a "step back" that he needed to make a clear choice.

Here's to exploding Whales and good decisions!


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