Sunday, October 19, 2008

Whale and Dolphin Meat Contains Dangerous Levels Of Mercury

Slices of raw whale meat are served in restaurant on Japan's west coast. Dolphin meat is also considered a delicacy in the region. Photograph: Toru Hanai/Reuters

Japan has long been known for its whale hunts carried out under the thinly-veiled disguise of “scientific research”. Somehow the meat from these whales and dolphins captured in the name of science always seems to find its way to the thriving fish markets of Japan. Whale and dolphin meat is considered a delicacy in Japan and diners are prepared to pay premium prices for it.

Now, continued whale and dolphin eating will do more than cause a dent in your wallet. Continued indulgence will cause you to flirt with international condemnation; and, put your health at serious risk also.

Taiji is a whaling town on the Pacific coast of Japan where the inhabitants regularly eat the meat of Pilot whales – a member of the dolphin family. Two Japanese universities (Health Sciences University of Hokkaido and Daiichi University’s College of Pharmaceutical Studies) studied the residents only to find that they have mercury levels approximately 10 times the national average. The national average is somewhere between 2.15 ppm and 1.20 ppm.

In hair tests of the residents, three had quantities of mercury higher than 50 parts per million (ppm). Neurological problems are known to occur at this level. The three men whose mercury levels were so dangerously high said they ate pilot whale meat more than once a month.

Tetsuya Endo, a member of the research team, said the residents faced no immediate threats to their health; but, suggested they cut back on their dolphin and whale meat consumption, according to the Kyodo news agency.

Among those people who discontinued eating the meat for two months, many of them reduced their mercury levels by up to 50%. The body is capable of flushing mercury out of the system given enough time; but, the health risks are as yet not fully known.

Last year a study was undertaken on the levels of mercury in the dolphin meat served in the school lunches in the Taiji area. The Health Ministry’s accepted level for this 0.4 ppm; but, the results showed mercury levels 10 to 16 times higher than this.

Taiji is about 280 miles west of Tokyo and is gearing up for the annual dolphin cull. Local fisherman are expected to harvest (read: slaughter) approximately 2,000 of the estimated 20,000 dolphins that will be killed in the coastal waters off Japan between now and April.

For the dolphins, it’s a time of horror and death. Hunter bang on metal poles to drive pods of terrified and disorientated dolphins in secluded coves from which there is no escape. They are then speared and hacked to death. If they somehow manage to survive this nightmare, the traumatized survivors are sold to aquariums in Japan, Europe and the USA.

The international condemnation of the culls doesn’t seem to deter the people of Taiji, where coastal whaling is said to stretch back 400 years, from claiming the local economy would collapse if coastal whaling and dolphin hunting were banned.

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