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Jaw sawn off, as whales become public health risk

One of the Unst sperm whales - Photo: Siobhan Pirie

SCOTTISH Natural Heritage has confirmed that the lower jaw of one of the two dead sperm whales that washed up on a beach in Shetland earlier this month has been sawn off.

The environmental agency has been in discussion with local police about what potentially could be a wildlife crime.

However, they have not officially reported it and police confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that they are not investigating.

SNH advised that it was a crime to possess any artefact from a protected animal be it a sperm whale or a Siberian tiger.

Meanwhile, the council environmental health department is warning people to stay away from the carcasses while plans are being put in place to dispose the two whales, possibly at the weekend.

Ideally, the two 40-tonne carcasses will be towed off Scolla Wick, near Muness, and taken to nearby Sandwick beach where they could be buried.

However it will be a logistical challenge to deploy sufficient manpower and machinery, including a number of vessels, to complete the recovery and disposal within a short weather window forecast for Saturday.

Environmental health officer Patti Dinsdale said notices warning the public to keep away from the Scolla Wick site would be put up on Thursday.

She added: “Please note that while there is no specific health risk known from whales, the carcasses are decomposing and, as such, may present a public health risk.

“There is also a small risk of explosion from the build up of gases in the gut cavity.”

She added: “Weather permitting, the whales will hopefully be removed at the weekend, however the area should still be avoided until the gut contents have washed away – which may take a few weeks or perhaps months depending on the weather.”