COURSEY: The tale of the whale that went 'boom'
Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 11:45 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 11:45 a.m.
A long time ago, my colleague Gaye LeBaron made this observation: “ ... no matter how many dead whales have beached through the two thousand years of recorded history, each one is like the first. Lots of milling around and no clear solutions. Come to think of it, it's a lot like Congress.”
She was referring to a dead whale that in 1995 was causing a stink in the tony confines of Sea Ranch. But she just as easily could have been talking about the 40-foot-long fin whale that washed up on a beach near Malibu last week, “below Barbra Streisand's neighborhood,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Just as was the case in Sonoma County in 1995, residents turned to their government for help with the problem. But 17 years later, the response was the same: Nobody in Los Angeles County last week could seem to figure out who should deal with the mess.
“The lifeguards stationed at the beach said they were game, but weren't sure what to do,” the Times reported. “The city of Malibu said the county would probably take care of it, but the county insisted Little Dume is a private beach, which it is not. Then local officials said the state might take care of it, but the nearest state property appeared to be nearly a mile to the southwest.”
As if this were the first time a dead whale caused such a stink.
Over the weekend — probably Saturday night — a group of homeowners who didn't want to be identified took matters into their own hands and hired a tugboat to pull the carcass far out to sea, the Times reported. No muss, no fuss, no permits.
It's not always so simple. Take, for example, the whale that washed ashore in 1968 near Timber Cove. Variously described as a sperm whale and a Nova Scotia whale, and measured (very roughly) at somewhere between 30 and 60 feet long, and estimated (precisely, no doubt) to weigh in at eight tons, the dead mammal was reported on St. Patrick's Day of that year to be causing “a whale of a stink” on the Sonoma Coast.
County officials said it was the Coast Guard's responsibility, or maybe the U.S. Department of the Interior's. The feds, on both the land and the sea, said no dice. Coastal residents didn't care about jurisdiction; they just wanted it — and its ever-increasing stink — to go away. They finally got the ear of their county supervisor, Robert Rath, and he arrived to the scene on a sunny Sunday with a handful of county employees and a good-sized crowd of spectators.
With explosives provided by the county's Public Works Department and expertise supplied by a couple of sheriff's deputies, 36 pounds of dynamite was tucked into the blubbery mass, and the crowd stepped back.
The dynamite “went kaput and put a small-sized dent in the aromatic carcass,” reported PD correspondent Vee Smith.
So the road crew and the deputies did what any group of men would do in a similar situation: They got more dynamite.
“Another charge, this one 100 pounds, succeeded in blowing the whale sky-high and unfortunate visitors along (Highway 1) found themselves with a free-for-nothing whale steak as ... blubber went flying,” Smith wrote. “One hippie was slightly chic with a necklace of beads and whale meat. And one startled lady narrowly missed hitting the sheriff's car parked on the highway when an enormous chunk of whale flank hit her windshield, temporarily obscuring the view. Another chunk landed on the roof of the Timber Cove Inn.”
Rath surveyed the scene and quickly concluded that “we handled the situation correctly.” And when someone asked who was going to clean up the mess, the supervisor deadpanned: “Well, it's really the Department of the Interior's problem now.”
Hiring a tugboat to pull the problem off the beach in the night may be a lot cleaner, but it's not nearly as good a story.
Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.
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