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'Like The Devil's Garbage Dump': A Washington Town's Rotting-Whale Boondoggle

Gabriel Spitzer
The remains of a grey whale skeleton are eveidence of a major civic debacle, but city fathers in Long Beach, Wash. have no regrets.

This story originally aired on April 2, 2016. 

It’s a reality of life on the Pacific Coast — occasionally, dead whales wash up on the beach. So when a deceased gray whale appeared in the surf in Long Beach, Wash., the city fathers took steps to bury it in the sand.

About a year later, they were thinking about how to observe the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark’s arrival at the Pacific Ocean. The explorers had written of seeing a whale skeleton on the Long Beach peninsula back in the 1800s, and so the Long Beach leaders decided to dig up their whale. They weren’t sure what they would find.

What they unearthed was a stink bomb of epic proportions: a collection of bones slicked with gluey, putrefying blubber, giving off an extremely potent odor. The minds of the city were forced to go to extreme measures to salvage their idea. Years later, the whole thing now looks like a big civic boondoggle, but longtime resident and natural historian Jim Sayce says the town regrets nothing. Well, almost nothing. 

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.