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Dolphin Meat Toxic With Mercury

Appeals to stop the dolphin slaughter on humanitarian, moral, and animal cruelty grounds have not worked. Our best appeal is now based on food safety and the health of Japanese children and adults who are eating mercury poisoned dolphin meat. A hopeful sign is that one super market chain has banned selling dolphin meat, and two Taiji councilmen have broken the “code of silence” and spoken up against children eating toxic dolphin meat.

Cetaceans are at the top of the food chain and long-lived, therefore they bio-accumulate marine pollutants in their internal organs and muscle (red meat), especially heavy metals like mercury. Many tests since 2001 have shown dolphin and whale meat to be extremely toxic with high levels of mercury, way above the government standard safe level of .4 parts per million (ppm). Mercury and methylmercury are strong neurotoxins, which can cause severe neurological diseases, especially to the fetuses of pregnant women and brain damage to children. Methylmercury is organic mercury which is especially toxic and crosses the placenta and blood brain barrier.

Minamata Disease
Since the 1950s, mercury poisoning from the Chisso Corp. plastics plant dumping into Minamata Bay on Kyushu, has caused over 2,000 deaths, and as many as 30,000 victims from “Minamata Disease.” (AP 9/30/07) Minamata Disease is a severe neorological syndrome with symptoms of ataxia, paralysis, impaired vision, hearing and speech, and in extreme cases insanity, coma, and death. Toxic mercury in some of the dolphins in Taiji are now higher than in the fish that caused Minamata disease, most of which had 9-24 ppm methylmercury (Understanding Environmental Pollution by Marquita Hill, 1997. p. 217). Despite this history of mercury poisoning, local schools in the Taiji area have been feeding toxic dolphin meat to children in their school lunches. The Japanese Minister of Health and Welfare confirmed the high mercury levels in a 2003 survey, but has done nothing to safe-guard the public. The Fisheries Agency has issued an advisory urging pregnant women not to eat dolphin meat more than once every two months.

This meat was sold as whale meat at a market in Katsuura. (It was very popular).
-Helene O'Barry photo

Taiji Councilmen Speak Out Against Toxic Dolphin Meat
Fortunately, two Taiji councilmen, Mr. Junichirou Yamashita and Mr. Hisato Ryono, discovered that 150kg of short finned pilot whale meat had been served in local kindergartens, primary and junior high schools in October of 2006. They had samples of pilot whale meat tested by the minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, which showed mercury 10 to 16 times higher, and methylmercury 10-12 times higher than the maximum safe levels. Consequently, they have come out publicly against feeding dolphin meat to school children.

In early December 2006, the Japan Times tested a package of striped dolphin meat from the Shingu Central Okuwa Supermarket, and found and reported mercury at 5.40 ppm - 13.5 times higher than the 0.4 ppm safe level. On December 26, 2006, the Okuwa Supermarket Corporation banned the sale of all dolphin meat in all their stores.

Tetsuya Endo is a famous researcher at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, who studied the brains of deceased Minamata mercury poisoning victims that showed even low levels of methylmercury can damage or destroy neurons. In a study done in 2005, Endo found the average level of methylmercury for false killer whales was 11.5 ppm, and the highest found was for stripped dolphins at 26.2 ppm, 87 times higher than the safe level. In an interview with The Japan Times, Endo stated, “Everyone should avoid eating dolphin meat. If people continue to eat dolphin, there's a high probability of them having damage to their brains ... No government agency is studying the problem - no scientists in Japan want to study the subject; it's very political.”

Minamata Disease - Wikipedia
Mercury Taint Divides a Japanese Whaling Town, New York Times, 2/21/08
Dolphin Hunt Sags Amid Mercury Fears, Associated Press, 1/30/08
Taiji Officials: Dolphin Meat “Toxic Waste,” Japan Times 8/1/07
Japan's Minamata Disease Still Lingers, Associated Press, 9/30/07
Toxic Dolphin Meat Served In School Lunches In Japan, Voice Of America, 9/4/07
Media Ignoring Mercury Tainted Dolphin Meat: Assemblyman, Japan Times, 9/4/07
Major Japanese Supermarket Chain Permanently Bans All Sale Of Dolphin Meat, 1/11/07
Total Mercury, Methyl Mercury, and Selenium Levels in the Red Meat of Small Cetaceans Sold for Human Consumption in Japan, by Tetsuya Endo et al, 2005
About Mercury and Methylmercury
Get the Mercury Out - The Effects of Mercury on the Nervous System

Taiji City Assemblymen Junichiro Yamashita (left) and Hisato Ryono have broken ranks to condemn locally caught "toxic" dolphin, whose meat is being served in school lunches in their area of Wakayama Prefecture and elsewhere.
-Boyd Harness photo


Dolphin Spirit Project

A project of the International Marine Mammal Project of
Earth Island Institute
300 Broadway, Suite 28
San Francisco, CA 94133
phone: (415) 788-3666