Speak Magazine

Field Notes

Whale carcasses washing up in droves

On this idyllic beach in the Western Region of Ghana, the carcasses of five decomposing whales have washed ashore since Aug. 31st.

On this idyllic beach in the Western Region of Ghana, the carcasses of five decomposing whales have washed ashore since Aug. 31st.

A growing number of decomposing whale carcasses are washing up along the shores of Ghana. Since August, ten whales have been spotted. That brings the total to 21 since 2009.

INTERACTIVE: Location of whale carcasses washing up in Ghana in 2013

 

The majority of the whales are spotted in the Western Region. Sixty kilometres offshore lies the Jubilee Oil Field. The offshore oilfield produces more than a hundred thousand barrels a day. Many in the country point to offshore exploration as the culprit.

Chief fisherman of Asanta, Joseph Ebambay, speaks with reporter Isakka Adams. Underneath their feet lies a carcass of a dead whale. Five whales have washed ashore around Asanta since September.

Chief fisherman of Asanta, Joseph Ebambay, speaks with reporter Isakka Adams. Underneath their feet lies a carcass of a dead whale. Five whales have washed ashore around Asanta since September.

During exploration oil companies fire sound waves to the the floor of the ocean to map out potential drilling sites. The theory is the testing can affect a whales ability to communicate and throw if off course and into a crash course with a ship.

But no one has been able to prove a link so far.

Traditionally, when a whale washes ashore it was seen as a sign from the gods, an omen of good luck. But not anymore.

“We cannot go fishing here as a result of the dead whales. They die and decompose and we cannot stand the stench,” said Stephen Apopila. Radio Gold reporter Isakka Adams interviewed the fisherman in Asanta, a small fishing village along the Western coast of Ghana about an hour’s drive to the Ivory Coast border.

The carcasses of five whales have washed up around the village since the end of August.

Theresa Mortoy is a fishmonger in the village. She says when the whales wash ashore her business stops. “Life becomes difficult for us. We can no longer fend for our children in school,” Mortoy says.

Friends of the Nation has been keeping track of the number of whales washing ashore in Ghana. The environmental NGO suggests the country’s offshore oil activities are linked to the deaths.

“Since 2009 when exploration activities became very intensive, these things started happening,” says Solomon Kusi Ampofo off Friends of the Nation.

“Communities are left helpless to either hack them into pieces or bury them themselves. They don’t wear any safety gadgets or hand gloves to handle these whales,” he says.

“The most important thing is not knowing the cause of the death but to reduce the likelihood of them dying,” says Carl Fiati, deputy director of natural resources at Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency.

“But as to the thinking it is the oil industry that is responsible, it is speculation that needs further investigations. Until you have evidence, you cannot say, yes, this is it,” he says.

The EPA has put together a team to figure out why so many whales are washing ashore. A report is due back in the new year.

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