Two hundred sixteen years ago, on January 8, 1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition came across the skeleton of a 105-foot whale.
After the holidays in 1805, news reached Fort Clatsop that a huge whale had washed ashore and perished near a Tillamook hamlet. Captain Clark and his crew of roughly 12 men, plus Sacagawea, Charbonneau, and Jean Baptiste set off in two canoes from Youngs Bay. They traveled up the relatively calm Skipanon River on January 6, 1806. The group then set off on foot, crossing Tillamook Head en route to the saltmakers’ settlement.
When Clark and his party finally reached the area now known as Ecola Beach, they found the whale’s bones already picked clean and the locals “boiling whale in a trough of about 20 gallons with hot Stone,” as Clark wrote in his journal. After some haggling, Clark was able to secure a few liters of oil and around 300 pounds of whale blubber.
What Do You Do With A Beached Whale?
Clark, who made several recordings of the animals and Native Americans they encountered, didn’t know much about this whale other than its size and the fact that the meat was excellent once cooked. The Expedition, who were constructing Fort Clatsop in what is now the city of Cannon Beach in Oregon, really appreciated the unexpected gift of a beached whale. But the local fauna and people swiftly devoured the meat, leaving little. Besides food, the whale corpse also yielded a useful byproduct: oil for the lanterns. Even though it could be chewy or even blubbery, people enjoyed eating the whale.
A Monument To Remember
Located at Whale Park on the northern edge of downtown Cannon Beach, Oregon, is the 9-foot-long metal sculpture titled “Whale.” This statue was erected to honor Captain Clark and his traveling party.