Whale Death on the rise in Ghana: What is killing them?
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Whale Death on the rise in Ghana: What is killing them?

In November 2013, pawnation site, quoted Patrick Ramage, head of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's whale programme, saying that "the incidence of whales being washed ashore is a global occurrence and not limited to Ghana". He added that whales die frequently worldwide. Nevertheless, collisions with ships, water pollution and seismic activity from oil drilling can kill or disorient whales. The Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Ghana, Mr Daniel Amlalo, adds his voice to what Patrick Ramage said. According to him, washing of dead whales ashore was normal as some foreign coastal communities had the same experience. Mr Amlalo, a biologist, said the whales might have died far away for various reasons and washed ashore in Ghana’s territorial waters. However what isn’t clear in Ramage and Amlalo’s statements is as to how many whales die at a particular location within a given time.

In September 2013, friends of the nation, a Non-Governmental Organisation in Ghana said that, Ghana used to experience around one dead whale every five years before. If this is something to go by, then the dying of 21 whales in the country within the last 4 years, with 10 cases occurring within a month (November 2013) raises a lot of concern. According to Oil Watch (October , 2013), citizens in the coastal areas, where the dead whales are washed to were shocked at the death of 2 whales within 2 days of October (20th and 21st ), 2013 and are therefore asking for answers as to what is killing these whales. Similar questions are being asked by environmental groups such as the Society for the Welfare of Animals – Ghana (SWAGH), Friends of the Nation (FON) and Save Our Whales & Marine Mammals Coalition, just to mention a few. Among other questions these environmental groups are asking are:

· Are the deaths of the whales caused by a possible pollution of the water? Or is the water polluted to the extent that small fishes that represent nutrition in the food chain for marine mammals are dying?

· Are the whales being hit by vessels deep in the sea and die because of the collision?

· Are the whales disoriented due to noises caused by oil and gas exploitation activities and therefore swim to shallow waters where they die?

Answers to these questions lie in investigations. This is buttressed by the statement of A.K. Armah, a lecturer at the University of Ghana, who studies marine life. He said, "It's definitely unusual. But what may be the cause we can't put our finger on". Information from pawnation site, 2013 reveals Peter Ziddah, a fish health specialist who has examined some of the carcasses, inferring that determining what, if anything, in Ghana's waters was responsible for the whale's deaths may prove difficult. Whales are usually badly decayed by the time they wash ashore and in some cases are beheaded by fishermen, according to local tradition. Hence "Looking at a rotting carcass, we can't determine anything".

However there is hope as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Ghana said in November 2013 that “an investigation into the deaths was under way”. This is evident in Ziddah examining some of the carcasses and also Joseph Sefa-Debrah of the Fisheries and Aquatic Science Department of University of Cape Coast leading a team from the EPA to collect samples of the 21st dead whale.

Whiles some citizens in the coastal areas where these dead whales are washed up to, are trying to correlate the deaths to the offshore oil and gas exploration in the country, some experts suggest that the cause could lie elsewhere. To them, Ghana is on a path of migration for whales heading from South Africa to the waters off Britain and with the current flowing east, whatever killed the whales could be off the coast of neighbouring Ivory Coast -- or further east. As to who is correct: the answer(s) lie in the results of the investigations initiated by the EPA. This matter is of great concern and may be getting out of hand, especially when 10 deaths are recorded within a month. However till the answers come from the investigation that have been initiated by EPA, all will have to battle with the various speculations coming from the various groups.

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