The Royal Society for the Prevention of Beaching (Rspb) is an arcane hundred and forty year old institution. It was formed under the aegis of a noblewoman of Suffolk dismayed by continual reports of beached whales. In an age when anything was deemed possible if only dealt with in a scientific manner accompanied by a healthy dose of religious circumspection, the Rspb soon achieved considerable success.
The Rspb's members are few and retiring in outward manner and rarely seen abroad. They number only around two dozen, and do not go for secret signs of recognition unlike the Templars, Justiciars, Freemartins or, indeed, the Rspca. Election of a new member follows usually upon the death of an existing one. There is a majority of women in the organisation, who provide most of the motivation and almost all the administrative work. The role of the few men is not very clear.
In the early days of the Rspb, members worked openly to succour beached whales. Many of them were chased away or, in some cases, grievously wounded, by hungry natives intent on butchering the beasts. Around 1880, it was decided that treating injured whales stranded on shore was too restrictive a remit. It addressed only the symptoms of the phenomenon.
One arm of the Rpsb was tasked with the creation of a worldwide network of sister societies which would work together to ameliorate the condition of the whales. This was slow going, especially in the early twentieth century, when notions of propriety and arrant sexism in the Western world (in the wake of the suffragette movement, particularly) prevented active participation among women. This is when the society became increasingly occulted. However, the secrecy had a fortunate ramification: many women in the British Empire happily joined its chapters in Canada, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and India. (The Australians, for reasons still unclear, declined.)
A subgroup within the Rspb investigated the causes of beaching itself. They concluded after several years of study that long sandy continental shelves attracted the animals ashore because the whales could neither correctly judge the depth of the sea near the coast nor adjust for the sudden changes in tide. A geological survey concluded that the beaches themselves were to blame for the tragic fate of the whales, and a militant arm called the Rspb" (Royal society for the prevention of beaches, prime, prime) was founded. It is not clear if the appellation 'Royal' is genuine in this instance, as I have been unable to find any evidence of a Royal warrant for them. This organisation spent much time and money in developing powerful diggers which were used to penetrate the bedrock beneath the continental shelf; a mathematically precise placement of explosives would very efficaciously implode the shelf and the beach above creating a deep chasm. Whales approaching the beach would then be met by a sheer underwater cliff, their lives thus being saved. A happy side effect was, of course, a rapid increase in fishery stocks within the now deep seashore. Some of the greatest budget surpluses of the organisation came from grateful fishermen following the blasts.
The first of this series of controlled explosions was on May 5, 1942 in Norfolk; it was attributed to a secret German plan to invade Britain from the east. Several more explosions over the next twenty years have resulted in a dramatic reduction in whale beachings in the UK.
The society has always known that this is not a permanent solution. Siltation is filling up the gorges steadily and it is only a matter of time before the beaches re-emerge. They will then have to repeat the exercise. In this quixotic venture, they are not dissimilar from other organisations such as the Society for the Painting of Bridges (SPB), who, equally esoteric, also are involved in perennial tasks (e.g. the painting of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco). There was much celebration recently when the Firth of Forth Bridge was painted end to end with a supposedly long-lasting paint. The SPB, however, knows better and, like the Rspb, remains quietly vigilant.