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16.12.2010 Business & Finance

Seven Whales Washed Ashore In Oil Zone

By Kofi Yeboah - Daily Graphic
One of the seven whales washed ashoreOne of the seven whales washed ashore
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Seven whales have been washed ashore along the Western coast of Ghana over the past six months in circumstances that have caused alarm among local fishermen and environmentalists.

While the fishermen and environmentalists have linked the death to the oil production activities in the Jubilee Field, officials of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say there has not been any scientific proof of that yet.

According to an expert in marine mammals at the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries at the University of Ghana, Professor Patrick Kwabena Ofori-Danson, apart from environmental pollution, whales could also die from eating harmful substances.

Mr Kojo Agbenor-Efunam, Principal Programme Officer responsible for oil and gas at the EPA, however, delinked the fate of the whales from any oil spillage, saying that what had been spilled so far was harmless because it was neither poisonous nor toxic.

In December, 2009, March, 2010 and May 2010, Kosmos Energy, a Texas-based oil and gas exploration company and one of the major partners in the Jubilee Field, spilled offshore 706 barrels of what was described as toxic substances and for which the company was fined by the Ghanaian government.

The Daily Graphic learnt that whenever a whale was washed ashore, fishermen in the locality of its landing and even beyond normally celebrated the occasion with merry-making because they deemed it as a good omen for bumper harvest, while in some fishing communities, the bones of the landed whale were preserved in a shrine for reverence.

However, for seven dead whales to be washed ashore within a space of six months, fishermen in Metika, New Town, Bonyere, Egbazo, Old Edobo, New Edobo and Jawai, all near Half Assini in the Jomoro District in the Western Region, are not in the least excited because they believe something other than a good omen is visiting them.

The Chief Fisherman of Metika, Kojo Zeyi, said fishermen in the area were worried about the situation, particularly so when similar whale landings had been reported in nearby fishing communities.

According to the Assembly member for Half Assini Amanzule, Mr John Ekobor, when the whales landed initially, the communities reported it to officials of the Department of Game and Wildlife in Sekondi/Takoradi and they, in turn, referred the matter to the Elubo office of the department.

However, he said, after coming around twice, the officers seemed to be fed up with the frequency of the landing and so they failed to respond to subsequent reports, perhaps, knowing very well that matters of whales and aquatic species were not under the purview of the Department of Game and Wildlife.

Under the circumstances, Mr Ekobor said the helpless coastal communities sought refuge in workers of the refuse management company Zoomlion and some eco-brigade workers to evacuate the huge marine mammals for burial.

Professor Ofori-Danson affirmed that human activity such as the drilling of oil and construction of a harbour could interfere with the echolocation of whales and, thus, cause them to be stranded.

Explaining further, he said whales normally moved by echolocation whereby as they travelled long distances, they released waves, which, upon hitting objects onshore, produced an echoing sound which they used to locate their bearing.

Professor Ofori-Danson said having established an echolocation, the whales were able to determine their route henceforth, but if for any reason there was a change in that echolocation, the marine mammals could become stranded in their movement and might end up on the beach dead.

He said if, for instance, the whales used a structure along the beach for their echolocation and that structure was subsequently removed, they could be misled and get stranded when they got to that location because they would not have any communication with the new environment.

According to Mr Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, Executive Director of WACAM, an environmental and human rights civil society organisation that hinted the Daily Graphic about the landing of the whales, for seven dead whales to be washed ashore in six months meant something was definitely wrong somewhere.

Reacting to some of the concerns, Mr Agbenor-Efunam indicated that oil spillage naturally affected birds that perched on the surface of the ocean and not marine mammals like whales.

He said unless the spilled oil was very heavy such that it would sink into the bottom of the ocean, it could not affect whales and other marine mammals.

He said there was no way the death of the whales could be linked to the oil production activities in the Jubilee Field unless it had been proven by a scientific analysis.

Mr Agbenor-Efunam also indicated that the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) of the oil companies had made provisions for the protection of marine mammals like whales and dolphins.

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