The whale came in the night, dying on land before anyone even knew it was there. Forty-five feet long and weighing over fifty tons, the massive sperm whale spent its last hours on the sand of Melville Beach, unable to return to the nearby sea that would enable its survival.
The question of body disposal soon became a priority in Melville. The town survived on the money gained from tourists during the summer. The whale came in mid-July, and soon after the smell of rotting meat pervaded the salty air and prevented anyone from setting foot on the sand.
An emergency meeting was called at City Hall. Citizens planned on returning the whale to the sea. Fifty citizens volunteered to aid in the removal of the body, most of which were local shopkeepers and business owners who were personally affected by the financial losses the whale corpse had caused. There was a great sense of community in City Hall that night. None of the citizens could have predicted that their effort would result in the death of twenty-seven innocent men and women.
The volunteers met on the beach the following morning. City Council provided funds for two bulldozers to be rented for the occasion. The plan was simple. Since the unstable sand shifted every time the bulldozers tried to pick up the corpse, the volunteers were asked to maintain pressure on the other side of the body so that it could be firmly lifted by the bulldozers and subsequently hauled out past shallow water to be dumped. When the bulldozers were in place at both ends of the whale, the volunteers were ordered to push. Their backs to the sea, they planted their feet squarely on the ground and pressed against the body with all their might. The bulldozers moved forward, extended their blades under the whale, and lifted the giant into the air. Short-winded, the volunteers cheered. The whale was on a first class trip out of town. Everything was going to be all right.
Then it happened.
As the body was suspended between two distant bulldozers, the carcass tore in half. The whale had remained in 90-degree heat for nearly two weeks, and its innards had turned to decaying mush. Both halves tipped inward and dropped straight down on top of the volunteers, enveloping the group in two bell jars filled with rotting blood and blubber. The twenty-three volunteers who survived were lucky enough to be out of the range of the falling halves, but the rest faced impalement or asphyxiation within the whale, unable to reach the nearby air that would enable their survival.
From that day forward, Melville Beach has been known as the home of the notorious sperm whale tragedy. Tourists flooded to the town like never before in spite of the smell of rotting flesh, which lingered on the beach for many years to come. The citizens regained their financial losses tenfold. Melville survived. Their problems were solved.