Blubber galore - whales blown up at Offal Point

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The Independent Online
THE beached sperm whales lay 50 feet long, weighed 40 tons, 'stank to high heaven' and had coastguards and councillors in despair, writes John Arlidge.

When the pair were washed up on the west coast of Scotland last month, council officials were perplexed. Environmental policies, which cover most things from nuclear war to sewage, had little to say on how to get rid of the mammals, the size of a double-deck bus.

After residents downwind of the carcasses complained, coastguards and the Receiver of Wrecks, the agency responsible for disposal, resorted this week to a traditional remedy: gelignite. Ministry of Defence workers and coastguards towed the pair from beaches at Loch Ainort on Skye and nearby Loch Ailort to Ockle Point on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, where they were blown up.

James Cormack, environmental health director of Lochaber district council, said: 'We ruled out burial because we could not dig a grave the size of a small house and we thought that if we towed the whales out to sea they would create a shipping hazard.'

Peter McGoff, managing director of the demolition contractors, Rocklift, said that a blast was the 'most practical and environmentally friendly' solution. 'Working with 40 tons of rotting flesh is not pleasant work but after the explosion the pieces that fall on land decompose naturally and those that fall in the water eventually sink or are eaten. Nothing is left.'

Oban coastguards said: 'The smell was so bad we had to destroy our overalls afterwards. Now there is so much blubber around the place we have nicknamed it Offal Point.'