For Oregon journalist Paul Linnman, covering a story about blowing up a giant sperm whale with a ton of dynamite
was just another day on the beat.
"When you're 23 and you're chasing cops, fire trucks and presidential candidates, it's exciting, but that was yesterday," Linnman told Asylum. "Tell me what I'm doing tomorrow. "
Little did he know that almost 40 years later, the story would find its way on the Internet, spawn its own Web site
and become the fifth-most-viewed viral video of all time
. We checked in with the star of this Web sensation to get the real story behind the infamous exploding whale vid.
"At the time, it had 350 million unique hits on the Internet," Linnman said. "I think I was right behind Paris Hilton's hamburger commercial
Linnman was working as a correspondent for ABC affiliate KATU Channel 2 in Portland on that fateful day in 1970. His boss and friend, Pat Wilkins, told him to cover the removal of a dead 8-ton, 45-foot sperm whale that washed up on a beach just south of Florence. Linnman said he didn't think it would be very interesting until "someone tipped him off from the Oregon Department of Transportation that they're going to try and blow it up with dynamite." The station flew him to the coast, the first time the station had ever hired a plane for a story, to grab footage of the explosion.
"The smell was already tremendous when we arrived at the beach, and we were about 1,000 yards away when they blew it up ... There was a signal system. We were watching a guy who would wave a flag to signal us to roll our camera. I was working a silent camera in slow motion and my partner, Doug Brazil, you can actually hear his voice laugh when the thing blows up."
This quirky story soon became an embedded warfare report as shards of freshly exploded sperm whale started falling all around them.
"We're hearing this noise around us and we realize it is pieces of whale blubber hitting the ground around us (from) 1,000 yards away. A piece of blubber the size of a fingernail could kill you if it hit you in the right part of the head, so we ran away from the blast scene, down the dune and toward the parking lot. Then we heard a second explosion ahead of us, and we just kept going until we saw what it was: A car had been hit by this coffee-table-size piece of blubber and had its windows flattened all the way down to the seats."
The footage and Linnman's report made the evening news and eventually found its way into the national media, something that only earned him $90 extra bucks and $110 for Brazil "because he had a better union than I did apparently."
The story made its way through the pirate video underground where it eventually landed on humorist Dave Barry's desk and first found infamy in one of his Miami Herald columns
. It became an instant viral classic when pirated copies of Linnman's story found their way onto the Web.
Linnman, now a reporter and morning host for KEX Newsradio 1190 AM in Portland
, said not a day goes by that someone doesn't mention or reference the story to him.
He has learned to accept his fame and people's undying interest in the bizarre story by writing a book, "The Exploding Whale and Other Remarkable Stories From the Evening News
," featuring detailed accounts of his day on the beach along with some of his favorite feature stories from his career.
"When it airs now, it's kind of tough for me to watch. I don't think it's that good and I've got four grown sons who are able to repeat any part of that story word for word and they do so frequently just to bug me," Linnman said with a laugh.
We wouldn't change a word, Paul, and we're glad you were there to capture Jonah's most sweet revenge