Whale Eaters in Nigeria Risk Illness

By Abiodun Raufu

LAGOS, Nigeria, August 29, 2001 (ENS) - Nigerian health officials fear an outbreak of illnesses following the mass consumption of a dead baby blue whale washed ashore on exclusive Victoria Island, Lagos on the night of August 13.

No one could say how exactly the whale died beside the busy commercial and restaurant area, but many believe it may have been injured after colliding with a large ship.


Blue whale (Photo courtesy Rorqual)
Kazeem Ibrahim, an apprentice mechanic, claimed to have seen the whale struggling in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean at dawn on Tuesday. "I was in the company of my colleagues at the beach early Tuesday morning on our way to work and we all saw this big thing thrashing wildly on the beach as if it was wounded and in the throes of death but it was getting dark and we were afraid to go near it," says Kazeem Ibrahim. "It never occurred to us that what we saw was a whale because none of us has ever seen one before except on television and in magazines."

Angelina Izobe, a fisherman's wife, says the whale looked as if it was wounded but still alive until some youths bludgeoned it to death with clubs and cutlasses early Tuesday morning. "I was at the beach that morning when I saw about half a dozen young men beating something that was thrashing in the water," she says.

By the time the news of the whale's existence spread across Lagos, it was dead.

Excited by the prospect of free meat, a horde of poor youths descended on the mammoth animal armed with knives, machetes and axes to get a piece of the dead whale, which to many indigent Lagosians could be compared to the biblical manna from heaven.

Neither the high waves nor the deep salty waters of the Atlantic Ocean could stop them. The situation at the beach was so rowdy that some of the youths accidentally cut each other with knives as fights broke out over the whale.

Some took their chunks of whale meat home, while some women and boys did brisk business by hawking the whale meat on the street.

Many Nigerians from different parts of Lagos and nearby towns who had seen a whale only on television, thronged to the beach to have a glimpse of the large marine mammal.

Adding to the confusion was a gang of club wielding, fierce looking youths who ensured that no one moved close enough to have a piece of whale meat or to have a look at the dead whale without an "admission charge" of about 20 U.S. cents.


Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria (Photo courtesy Motherland Nigeria)
Lagos, the former capital of Nigeria, is home to about 12 million inhabitants, many of whom are so poor they can hardly afford meat. But medical experts say since no one has determined what killed the whale, those who ate the meat may suffer grave health problems.

"My fear is that these youths had no idea of what the whale died of before consuming its meat," says Dr. Ajayi Akinyele, a medical doctor working at a government hospital in Lagos. "The whale may have died of some disease or even an oil spill which is common in an oil producing country like in Nigeria. Even if it died of a natural cause, nobody knew when it actually died."

"Anyone who eats the meat of this whale may suffer from gastrointestinal disorder or even infections of all kinds," warned Dr. Akinyele. "I think government officials should have cordoned off the dead whale to prevent people from eating what may well turn out to be poison."

"I am not a medical doctor but I was distressed to see some of the youths eating the meat of the dead whale raw when a report on the incident was shown on television," says Pa Adamu Ayoola, 71, a retiree resident in Lagos. "These boys don't know the health condition of the whale when it died, yet they were selling its meat to ignorant people."

Pharmacist Ronke Sanya says what worries her is that even when the dead whale had begun to emit putrid odour, the scavengers were still stripping the carcass. "The whale was emitting a foul smelling odor, and these people were still intent on consuming its meat," she says.

"I know many of them are poor, but that is not a good excuse for endangering their health," Sanya said. "I blame the government which should have cordoned off the area to prevent these youths from having access to the dead whale until it is clear that it is fit for human consumption."