Whale Meat Toxics Ignored in Push for Commercial Whaling

CANBERRA, Australia, April 15, 2002 (ENS) - The latest scientific research has cast "a disturbing light" on the Japanese Whaling Association's push to encourage young people to eat more whale meat, says Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic, Dr. Sharman Stone.


Dr. Sharman Stone (Photo courtesy Government of Australia)
"It is very surprising that the Japanese are encouraging the eating of whale meat with shoppers queuing for free samples of canned whale stew, deep fried whale meat and blubber recipes in downtown Tokyo," Dr. Stone said Friday.

Japanese officials distributed the whale meat in Tokyo's youth fashion district on National Whale Day April 9, to stimulate support for a resumption of commercial whaling. A detailed management plan for commercial whaling is on the agenda for the May meeting of the International Whaling Commission set for Shimonoseki, Japan, a whaling town.

Hundreds of people lined up to taste the free whale meat samples, usually a costly delicacy.


Whale bacon. Food photos from Mrs. Ohnishi's Whale Cuisine (All photos courtesy Whaling Library except where noted)
"Unfortunately," said Dr. Stone, "what these unsuspecting consumers probably received was a cocktail of toxins and contaminants that have made their way into our seas and oceans, particularly during the last 50 years."

"We now know from work done by Dr. Roger Payne at the Whale Conservation Institute, who has been studying and documenting whales for the last 28 years, that chemicals have not only made their way into the sea but have made their way up the food chain and into the bodies of whales," she said.

Dr. Payne, who has led over 100 expeditions to all oceans and studied every species of whale in the world, has warned that the highest concentration of endocrine disrupting compounds ever found in any animal came recently from a minke whale, the species presented for free tasting to Tokyo lunchtime shoppers.

"Unfortunately," said Dr. Stone, "the chemical revolution of the last century has produced synthetic contaminants not found in nature, to use in a range of pesticides, fertilizers and other products. These substances wash from the land into the sea. Endocrine disrupting compounds are highly toxic, chemically stable and long lived. They are also usually far more soluble in fats than water."


Sashimi from a fatty part of the whale.
"Because air and water current disperse the endocrine disrupting compounds polewards," Dr. Stone said, "polar people and animals have the highest accumulations. Whales have great difficulty in disposing of these toxins from their bodies - so where do these contaminants end up? In the whale meat being served at this very moment to Japanese consumers, of course," she said.

"Not only is this meat now highly contaminated, but it is clear from press reports of the whale meat giveaway that Japanese consumers do not believe they are missing out. Surveys consistently show that young Japanese consumers have not embraced whale meat and are disturbed by the methods used to kill whales," Dr. Stone said.

But on March 16, the Prime Minister’s office and the Japan Fisheries Agency released the results of a public opinion survey showing public support for whaling.

Masayuki Komatsu, Councillor at the Fisheries Agency said, “Whaling and whale meat are an integral part of the culture of a number of locations in Japan. It is therefore no surprise that the strong public support for whaling shown in past surveys has been reconfirmed.”


Minke whale (Photo courtesy Cetacea)
The survey conducted in December 2001 by the Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan showed more than 75 percent support for whaling "managed in a rational and sustainable way," the Fisheries Agency said.

When asked whether scientific research was required to study the impact of whales on fisheries the government reported that 81.3 percent said that such research was "necessary or may be necessary" while only 6.9 percent said that such research was not necessary or might not be necessary.

More than 87 percent of respondents said that they had eaten whale meat.

Dr. Stone warned that these people may not know about the accumulation of toxics in whale meat. "It is important that the Japanese Whaling Association informs whale meat consumers about the toxicity levels found in some meat and blubber of the product that they are trying to encourage their consumers to eat," she said.

"This is a serious human health issue. At the same time they should also be concerned about the Japanese fleets killing of whales for 'research' in Antarctica, when non-lethal methods can deliver the same data that will help protect the species."

One scientific group meeting in advance of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting the week of May 20 will review the numbers of minke whales currently swimming in Antarctic waters.

Under a scientific research provision of IWC rules, the Japanese whaling fleet takes a self-assigned annual quota of 440 minke whales from the Southern Ocean, in a process it calls "sampling."


Japanese whalers measure the body of a whale.
In addition, over the past two years, a total of 140 minke whales, 93 Bryde’s whales and 13 sperm whales were "sampled." A proposed program involves sampling of 150 minke whales, 50 Bryde’s whales, 50 sei and 10 sperm whales each year in the North Pacific.

A provision of IWC regulations requires that whales taken for scientific research must be used rather than discarded. Japan sells this whale meat as sushi, whale bacon, canned whale stew and other food items.

Director General of the Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo, Dr. Seiji Ohsumi, says, “Japan’s plan to increase its whale research program is based on urgent scientific need to collect data on the competition between whales and fisheries,” said Dr. Ohsumi.

“It is estimated that whales consume three to five times the amount of marine resources as are caught for human consumption, so our whale research is providing valuable information required for improving the management of all our marine resources.”


Boiled sliced whale meat
“These species were chosen because they are abundant in the north Pacific and they are very large animals – this means they consume huge amounts of marine resources,” Ohsumi said.

But consuming whale meat may be hazardous to human health because of the endocrine disrupting compounds long lived whales have accumulated in their tissues, Australia's Dr. Stone maintains. "Every time an animal consumes a plant or another animal containing these compounds it accumulates the chemicals. The longer you live, the more you accumulate," she said. "Mammals such as whales, and humans, pass the substances on to their fetuses and to their infants as the babies drink the mother's milk.

In a paper delivered in Sydney in March, Dr. Payne presented evidence that endocrine disrupting compounds can inhibit fetal development, disturb reproductive organs, compromise immune systems and cause neural damage.