Times Past 17.10.08


A school of forty pilot whales came aground and was stranded on the beach at the head of Urafirth early on Wednesday morning. Local people, police and the staff from the NCC struggled for two hours to get eight of the whales back into the water but by that time the rest had died.

Dr Mike Richardson of the Nature Conservancy Council said he thought the school had probably come into the firth to escape from the high winds and rough seas on Tuesday night. As the firth shelves gently up to the beach, said Dr Richardson, it would only take one mistake from the bull whale for the rest of the school to end up stranded. “Whales are very gregarious and would follow the bull onto the beach,” he added.

It is not certain if the bulls which were put back into the water will survive. Because of their nature it is possible they might come back onto the beach to rejoin the rest of the school. Rescue attempts were hampered by this herding instinct as whales that had been pushed back into the water tried to get back to the beach. The surviving whales will also be disorientated, hurt and their sense of balance will have gone.

The dead whales range in size from a 19 foot bull to a six foot long calf which Dr Richardson thinks might actually have been born on the beach. Mr Douglas Smith, the SIC’s director of protective services, said on Wednesday that they do not constitute a health risk. They are a considerable distance from the nearest house and will not decompose quickly n cold weather. “The smell will become a nuisance though,” he added.

Plans have been made to bury the carcasses behind the beach but the council will wait until a biologist, Mr Tony Martin, from the Sea Mammals Research Unit in Cambridge, takes samples from the dead Whales. Mr Martin was due to arrive in Shetland on Thursday.


Lerwick Town Council agreed on Tuesday night to support the Scottish National Party’s suggestion that Scotland should be allocated the remaining four television channels, and that a Scottish TV Board be set up – but only because of the remote possibility that such a set-up might produce a TV service for Shetland quicker than the BBC!

Even so, some members had their doubts, and believed Shetland would get a better deal from the English than from the industrial area of Scotland!

The letter from the convener of the Scottish National Party’s broadcasting committee referred to the fact that the remaining channels would soon be allocated. The party had written to the Prime Minister suggesting that the additional frequencies be allocated in Scotland to a Scottish TV Board, which would be non-profit-making, but whose revenue would come from the sale of advertising time.

The writer hoped the council would discuss the proposal and inform the Government of their favourable decision.

Mr G.H. Burgess said he thought they should support it. The BBC had failed miserably so far as Shetland was concerned, and he thought they should try a Scottish source.

Provost Conochie asked if Mr Burgess appreciated that this was a suggestion to set up a programme on the same range as ITA, which drew its revenue from advertising.

Mr Burgess: I am in favour of anything which will bother the BBC.

Mr R.A. Anderson thought it was a most laudable idea that Mr Burgess had put forward. If there was any possibly of playing the one against the other and Shetland coming out the winner, with a TV service, Mr Anderson would support any of them. But he had very grave doubts, from experience they had in other public affairs, whether Shetland would get more consideration from the industrial belt of Scotland than from the English. He would put his money on the English!

Mr A. Johnson: Hear, hear!


Sir, – The resignation of the entire members of the Unst school Board, as a protest against the ridiculous attempt of the Education Department to enforce the five years of age rule to country districts, is an occurrence the significance of which cannot be overestimated in these islands.

The writer does not see how the Board members, holding the views they do, could possibly have acted otherwise; as, had they remained in office, no alternative would have been left them but to carry out the strict letter of the law, against the dictates of their better judgment.

The question now is, what is to be done? Ought not the Department to capitulate? The fact that the elected Chairman, the Medical Officer of Health for the district, was the first man to resign, ought surely to carry considerable weight with my Lords, in aiding them to arrive at a decision.

There are four schools in Unst, situated at Baltasound, Uyeasound, Haroldswick and Westing. The distance from Baltasound school to Uyeasound is about six miles, and to Westing or Haroldswick, very little else. The nearest two to each other, Uyeasound and Westing, are three or four miles apart. The reader will, from these particulars, form some idea of the distance many of the children must go, before reaching any of the schools. It is perfectly absurd to expect children of five, mere infants, to walk to school and back, a distance of perhaps two to four miles each way, even once a day. The obvious remedy for the existing state of matters, is to raise the school age, in country districts only, from five years to seven.

The only objection to this plan, is that children living near the schools would be precluded from benefitting by the education which they are mentally quite able to receive at the age of five.

The writer has a suggestion to make. It is this – That children be allowed to attend school, but that they be not compelled to do so until they reach the age of seven. Children are struck off the roll at eighteen, just when many Institute pupils are receiving the most important part of their education. If these young men and women, why not the infants.

Baltasound, Unst


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