Toxic Dolphin Meat Warning Used in Campaign Against Hunts

TOKYO, Japan, February 4, 2005 (ENS) - Three international environmental organizations - the Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan, the International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, and One Voice, a French animal protection organization - warned today that dolphin meat sold to the Japanese people is contaminated with mercury, methylmercury, cadmium, DDT, and PCBs. The groups are using the warning in their attempt to stop the annual dolphin drives in Japanese coastal waters.

The Elsa Nature Conservancy acquired a slice of meat from a bottlenose dolphin that was killed in Futo on November 11, 2004. The organization sent the sample to Hokkaido where Dr. Tetsuya Endo of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Hokkaido, examined it for mercury contamination.

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As top predators, dolphins accumulate toxic chemicals in their flesh. When they become meat, humans ingest those chemicals. (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)
The dolphin sample tested high in pollutants, containing 19.2 parts per million (ppm) of mercury, 48 times higher than the maximum advisory level of 0.4 ppm set by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry of Japan.

Despite this scientific evidence of contamination, the Japanese government provides no warning to its people that eating dolphin meat is a health hazard, the groups say. Other conservation groups such as Greenpeace and the Sea Shephered Conservation Society have also campaigned against toxic dolphin meat and the dolphin drives.

"If the people of Japan knew the truth, they would refuse to buy the poisoned meat of dolphins and whales that have been brutally slaughtered," said Ric O'Barry, lead investigator of One Voice. "But the government and the fishing industry keep this dangerous secret hidden from the Japanese people. It is time for the Japanese government to end the slaughter of dolphins and end the poisoning of its people."

O'Barry attracted international attention in 1970 when he was arrested in the Bahamas for cutting the wires of a dolphin's pen. That action was a reversal for O'Barry, who had collected, trained and exhibited dolphins for the Miami Seaquarium and trained all five dolphins used in the "Flipper" television series. The death of his favorite Flipper turned him from commercial exploitation to a dolphin protection advocate.

He has written books, and founded a nonprofit organization, The Dolphin Project, which was established on Earth Day 1970 to abolish what O'Barry calls the dolphin slave trade. The Dolphin Project has rehabilitated and released at least 14 captive dolphins back into their natural habitat.

Now O'Barry works with One Voice, a French animal rights organization founded in 1998 and based in Nantes. One Voice campaigns so that the rights of animals to respect, freedom and life will be understood and recognized.

"The people of Japan have long suffered from severe pollution and contamination," said David Phillips, director of Earth Island Institute, a San Franciso based environmental organization.

"Dolphin and whale meat are seriously contaminated with poisons that can injure, sicken, and kill people. Yet, the Japanese government has taken no steps to protect its people from harm," Phillips said.

This international team from Japan, France and the United States is not the first international team to address the issue of contaminated cetacean meat.

International teams of scientists have analyzed hundreds samples of whale and dolphin meat sold in Japan. They reported to the International Whaling Commission that more than 90 percent of the samples exceeded limits for one or more pollutants. One sample had more than 1,600 times the permitted level of mercury.

The average level of mercury was more than five times the maximum allowable level, while the average concentration of methyl mercury was four times the maximum level.

Mercury can cause severe damage to the brain and nervous system in adults, and is particularly dangerous for young children and pregnant women. To avoid contamination, consumers in Japan are advised to avoid buying dolphin or "whale" meat, which is sometimes mislabeled dolphin meat.

Members of the three groups also object to the way the dolphin meat is brought to market. O'Barry says the dolphin capture in Taiji, Japan stands out as the cruelest thing he has witnessed during his more than 40 years of working with dolphins.

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Dolphin drive in Futo, Japan, November 2004. (Photo courtesy Elsa Nature Conservancy)
For the past two years, Ric and his wife Helene O'Barry have travelled to Taiji with the support of One Voice and Earth Island Institute to document the annual dolphin slaughter that occurs as part of Taiji's annual drive fishery. The dolphin drives occur each November when the marine mammals driven into a lagoon. The entrance is sealed and the dolphins are slaughtered or taken live for sale to aquaria.

The environmental groups believe that if the Japanese people learn how contaminated the dolphin meat has become, they will no longer buy it, and the dolphin drives will end.

It was a sample of dolphin meat from the November 2004 dolphin drive at Futo that the Elsa Nature Conservancy has analyzed for mercury contamination.

The Elsa Nature Conservancy is also working to stop the dolphin drives at Taiji and at Futo. "Dolphin watching was started by an active fisherman at Futo, where the drive fishery has been carried out," the group says. Now it is requesting that the Ito City Fishing Cooperative and its Futo Branch "stop the drive hunt of dolphins and, instead, to support the dolphin watching."

The groups are petitioning Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to revoke the permits that allow the dolphin drives to continue. "The dolphin meat is known to be highly contaminated with mercury and is a health hazard to your own people," their letter of petition says. "I strongly urge you to prohibit the sale of contaminated dolphin meat immediately."

The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries says that "catching dolphins is strictly controlled in Japan."

The hunting of harbor porpoises is strictly forbidden, and the ministry says rigid quotas are applied with respect to the harvesting of other types of dolphins.

"Japanese fishermen are catching Dallís porpoise at the level of only four percent of its total resource amount. It is scientifically clear that this level of catch will not harm the resource condition," the ministry says.

"As to whether the manner in which the dolphins were hunted was unusually cruel or barbaric," said a ministry official, "I can only say that it is no more or less so than hunting other wild animals. Unlike domestic livestock, wild animals - whether they be dolphins, ducks, deer or moose - are killed under conditions which are not entirely under the hunters' control."