A Whale of a Tale–Did the CIA Use a Whale Carcass in a Covert Cold War Mission?

Fin_whale_from_airCold War paranoia birthed its fair share of odd stories. The people of East Germany and other Warsaw Pact states were convinced that a common pest was the result of a nefarious CIA plot. The Communists were not the only ones to let propaganda and rumor to taint their world view, however. Many believe that two Italian brothers, working with surplus American equipment, were able to hear disturbing secret broadcasts revealing the deadly blunders of the Soviet Space Program.

Perhaps the strangest tale of Cold War shenanigans is that of Goliath the whale. The Biblically named cetacean caused a stir when it toured Hungary in the early sixties. However, some whispered that the mounted whale was cover for a bizarre CIA scheme to test Communist preparedness for nuclear war.


The legend

Goliath’s corpse measured 22 meters long and weighed in at a bulky 68,200 kilos. The carcass was transported, no surprise, on a very large truck. Interestingly enough, the whale’s tour was allowed to extend beyond the Iron Curtain into Hungary. That is where the legend began–the whale was cover for a CIA scheme to test Hungarian roads, to see how they could cope with the massive weights of missile carrying vehicles.

Their evidence? The truck supposedly resembled a ballistic missile carriage. As for the whale itself, it would easily weigh as much as one or more missiles, and it would be much less suspicious to cart around a dead sea critter than mock missiles. And so, Goliath toured all of Hungary, his handlers taking careful notes about the roads as they went.


Goliath was real, and had two companions to boot

Goliath no legend, himself. Although he is barely remembered today, he and two companions–Jonah and Hercules—toured Europe all through the 50s, 60s, and 70s. All three were fin back whales, caught by Norwegians in the early 50s. They were preserved and toured around Europe to promote the whaling business. Remember, Europe was still recovering from the devastation of World War II, and desperate to find means of economic development. Whaling, then, might seem a viable industry, as reviled as it is today.

The idea that Goliath the whale was a giant spy tool is nothing but Cold War paranoia. The whales toured not only to advertise whaling, but as educational tools and circus attractions. The legend probably began because Hungary was steeped in suspicion toward the West, and so this exhibition of Western origin had to be driving through the country for underhanded reasons.

So the legend is nothing but that–a story with a small kernel of truth in the center. But what about the whales? Goliath and Hercules are gone, but Jonah still remains in private ownership. Perhaps one day, he will take to the road again, an old time sideshow draw given new life in the 21st century.



Deput, Steve. “Jonah the whale travels inland.” BBC.co.uk. July 27, 2009. BBC News. July 14, 2014. http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/sheffield/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8170000/8170553.stm

“Urban Legends–The Whale of the CIA.” Funzine.hu. Funzine. July 14, 2014. http://www.funzine.hu/2012-03-urban-legends-the-whale-of-the-cia/

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