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It was a busier day than usual for Jura Coastguard, finding an explosive dead whale and exploding an even nastier beachcombing surprise.
Station officer and postie Graeme Lindsay was, like others in Jura Coastguard, ‘knackered’ after a hard day’s work that April afternoon, having mowed the island’s airstrip below Knockrome.
Then a call came in that a dangerous flare had been spotted washed up on a beach near Barnhill – 18 miles away at the island’s rugged ‘unget-at-able’ northern tip, where George Orwell wrote his dystopian novel 1984.
All but one of Jura’s 12-strong Coastguard team were despatched to find the incendiary hidden somewhere in the wild, difficult terrain, with one member changing hats to also serve as a policeman.
‘It was a good turn-out,’ Graeme said. ‘One of the guys used to do mine clearing in Africa, so we have a bit of expertise. Nasty things flares. Fumes from the white phosphorus are quite dangerous, and if it sticks to your skin it keeps burning.’
After two hours of searching, they located the foot-long military flare on the shore, and called in the bomb squad. ‘It’s a very remote part of the country,’ he said. ‘It’s probably once in a generation that someone was down there.’
The Royal Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal team arrived the next day. ‘They put explosives round it, and we retreated,’ Graeme recalled. ‘It was a massive blast. The explosion was heard across the water on the mainland, about four or five miles away. The exciting part was the bits of phosophorus flying off.’’
It was all part of the service. ‘We saw it, we called the bomb squad, they exploded it,’ he said. ‘Then it was back home for tea and medals. One of the bomb disposal guys came back on holiday because he loved it so much.’
But the Jura Coastguard adventures hadn’t yet finished: on the same day as the flare alert, another call came in reporting a large whale – possibly a minke – rotting at Jura’s even more unget-at-able north-west coast near Glengarrisdale.
One curious follower of the Jura Coastguard’s Facebook page wondered how the team could get rid of the whale, given their recent experience of controlled explosions.
However, ‘it would probably explode on its own,’ Graeme thought. ‘This one was so remote it was not a danger.
‘If it’s still alive and exhaling you have to be very careful near the blowhole. There are some nasty bugs on it.
‘You can end up in hospital if you breathe it in. That’s why we cordon them off when we find them.’
If anyone does find a live, stranded whale, and is a man, they are advised not to talk to it.
‘A woman’s voice soothes them,’ Graeme explained, ‘but a man’s voice stresses them out.’
The first point of contact is the British Divers Marine Life Rescue hotline, and, in the meantime, visit its website for advice on what to do and what not to do.