Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on February 23, 2008
The incendiary issue of Japanese dolphin and whale hunting looks like it may be dampening as the nation loses its appetite for both big fish. However, this is due to health reasons and not ethical ones. According to the New York Times, laboratory tests last June revealed high levels of mercury in dolphin and pilot whale that were caught and sold in the old seafaring town of Taiji — Japan’s equivalent to Nantucket.
This scare is such that schools have stopped serving pilot whale for lunch and some supermarkets have removed dolphin from its shelves. Mercury has also split the town in two: some are afraid of the potential health risks while others — the “local officials and the fishermen’s union — insist that the mercury danger is overblown”.
“There is a real danger in whale and dolphin meat, but word is not getting out,” said Tetsuya Endo, a professor at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido and an expert on mercury in sea animals.
Japan is the world’s biggest consumer of whale and dolphin meat and mercury has the potential to affect the health of millions. Professor Endo has participated in studies that revealed mercury levels of 10 to 100 parts per million, well in excess of the government’s advisory level of 0.4 part per million.
According to Japan’s fisheries agency, Japan kills over 1000 minke and other great whales as well as 21,000 dolphins annually. It continues this age old tradition under the banner of research to “avoid the international ban on commercial whaling, but then allows the sale of the meat in supermarkets”, much to the fury of animal rights activists and environmental groups.
Perhaps this new twist in the Japan’s controversial practices on dolphin and whaling will finally bring this unfortunate tradition to an end.