James Herring: Day pilot whales beached at Thorntonloch

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In May 1950, 147 whales were stranded on Thorntonloch Beach (next to the modern Torness Power Station). The Scotsman reported that “Crowds estimated at between 30,000 and 40,000, and from as far afield as the north of England, visited the beach at Thorntonloch, near Dunbar, yesterday”. The whales had beached the day before The Scotsman was on the scene but the report continued “Most of the whales had died but 41 were shot last night by RSPCA inspectors, to put an end to their sufferings”. Police were drafted in from across the Lothians to manage the crowd and the traffic. The Scotsman also noted that “An attempt was made to cordon off the crowds but they got completely out of hand and refused to obey the commands of the police”.

This remarkable event is being research by Dr James Herring, from Dunbar, as part of a research study into aspects of the town of Dunbar in the early 1950s. Dr Herring told the Evening News “There are several press reports of this event but I want to create an oral archive, featuring the authentic voices of people who saw the whales. I’ve already interviewed two people who travelled down from Edinburgh, with their parents, to see the whales. I’m hoping to interview more people from Edinburgh and the Lothians who have memories, and perhaps photographs, of the event. So, I’m looking for people who are over 70, 
ie who would have been five or more years old at the time, to be interviewed.”

When asked if five-year-olds might be too young to remember details, Dr Herring stated that, because this was such a dramatic experience, the memory of the whales and the crowds have remained firmly in people’s memories since childhood.

There are few photos of this event, apart from some in newspapers and these photos are not very clear. James Herring has been given some photos, mostly very small in size because of the technology of the time, but he is interested in seeing more photos. Dr Herring told the Evening News “1950 was a completely different era in terms of photography as very few people owned a camera.”

Did you or someone you know, go to see the whales at Thorntonloch in 1950? If so, please contact Dr Herring on 01368 864613 or at herring39@gmail.com so that he might arrange an interview.