How whale feast sparked controversy in Bayelsa communities

•Conservationists express worry over poaching

In the morning of Monday 30th July, 2019, the people of Ijaw-Kiri, a coastal community in Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, woke up and found a whale grounded by the beach.

On sighting the whale, residents rushed home and returned with axes, knives, and cutlasses, butchering the huge sea mammal without confirming whether it was dead or not.

The feast on the whale, according to eyewitnesses, lasted all through Monday and Tuesday. And when their machetes and cutlasses didn’t hasten the butchering of the fish, they resorted to motor-sawing machine.

And when the photo of locals feasting on the massive sea mammal was shared on Facebook, it was reported that residents of neighbouring communities rushed to Ijaw-Kiri to have a share of the feasting frenzy.

While the feasting lasted, some of the beneficiaries took to their Facebook page to appreciate God, saying the whale was a manna from the ocean.

Commenting on the incident, one Miss Ebi Tuyan urged the locals to “continue to cut and eat as much as you can because it is a free meal from God.”

For Tony Asan, his fear was that the blood from the whale that turned the water red could attract sharks, possibly leading to dire consequences. However, at the time of filing this story, there was no report of a shark attack.

It was learnt that the whale didn’t only attract those that butchered it due to desperation for food but also tourists who trooped to Brass Island in their numbers just to have a taste of whale meat.

Nigerian Tribune further gathered that a bucket-full of the fish was sold for N5,000. But according to wildlife experts, there are a variety of whale threats, most of which are the direct result of human activities. In the past century, many of the large whale species had been hunted to the brink of extinction through industrial whaling.

It is reported that out of the 13 whale species, seven of them are currently classified as endangered or vulnerable.

However, Mr. Oyeghe Binaebi, the fellow that broke the news of the feasting on Facebook, warned the locals to be careful as whale meat could cause uncontrollable stooling when not well prepared.

He wrote: “I remember a whale was grounded on the shores of Foropa Community when I was in secondary school. I was able to slice home two buckets. I had pepper soup with it for days and runny stomach for the next one week, no way to even sit down in class. Well, it is not even a delicious meat. It has a bad smell when cooked.”

Mr. Goodnews Okede also recalled that “in November 1993, one was grounded like this across Odio-ama town in the same Brass LGA. I participated fully in the cutting of the flesh and drilling of the fat for many days. To us then, a whale was a mysterious creature. Its flesh was not that appetizing, although whale flesh tastes almost like every other kind of meat with funny smells, but it is sweet when it is properly salted and dried.”

When contacted, the Project Officer of Environmental Rights Action (ERA) in Yenagoa, Mr. Morris Alagoa, frowned at the incident, calling for increased advocacy and sensitisation on the vulnerability of the mammal.

He said, “My candid view is that conservationists should step up advocacy and sustained campaign for the protection and preservation of nature and the environment. These and other endangered species of animals like dolphins need to be protected by law because they are also part of our environment and victims of human activities like pollution.

“Since I was a child, l started hearing about whales running aground and people who see such as manna from above have never spared them. Whether the action is induced by hunger or poverty of the mind, something needs to be done against the trend.

“Incidentally, our people are still far from the mark. Our people are only guided on such things by cultural limitations. Like the shark, alligator, crocodile, python, these are all like totems in some communities and language groups. They don’t eat them, but we should grow above this level and through culture-mix refine our thinking to accept that not everything in the forest or sea should be meat.

“Only conscious and sustained campaigns and advocacy can assist; not the preaching against electoral violence kind of thing done when election is around the corner. It must be continuous. But again this requires good funding from international bodies and government’s support.”