Protecting the environment with intelligence

Clare Perry’s opinion as Japan’s largest dolphin slaughter begin

On 1st November the world’s largest cetacean hunt – the Dall’s porpoise hunt – resumed again.

I was in the small fishing port of Otsuchi in northern Japan earlier this year, with a cameraman and fixer, to film and document the porpoises being landed. It was a depressing and frustrating trip. We were treated with suspicion and outright hostility at the market place, followed around by the police and even kicked out of our hotel once they realised we were there to film the hunt. It was impossible to talk to anyone actually involved in the hunting or the prefectural authorities that are supposedly regulating it would not agree to meet with us.

 

Investigating levels of mercury in supermarket whale meat.

Investigating levels of mercury in supermarket whale meat.

 

On the other hand we were able to survey local supermarkets for Dall’s porpoise meat (we found lots) and get some products tested for mercury and methyl-mercury. We were told in one supermarket that it was a popular local product and we found large quantities in Otsuchi and Kamaishi supermarkets, selling fairly cheaply, as fresh meat or marinated. The analysis results showed that mercury and methyl-mercury levels are high in these animals – on average 2.75 times higher than the regulatory limit of 0.4 parts per million. With up to 15,000 Dall’s porpoises allowed to be killed each year, this equates to around 800 tonnes of toxic meat on the supermarket shelves each year.

Recently, we received the latest official catch statistics for 2008 showing that a dramatic reduction in the catch had occurred – to just over 7,000 Dall’s porpoises. The first year I went to Japan to film the hunt was 1999 and we had just heard then that more than 18,000 porpoises had been killed in 1998.  So this is certainly good news, and progress in the right direction. But we need more information to understand why the catch is lower. Is it just a blip or does it really signal a gradual reduction in the hunt? My hunch is that some hunters are leaving the trade as the market for small cetaceans is no longer profitable, in part likely due to the glut of large whale meat being stored in warehouses across Japan, but also because people are becoming more aware of the human health risks associated with eating dolphins and porpoises.

 

Dall's Porpoise catch in Otsuchi Japan. Copyright EIA.

Dall's Porpoise catch in Otsuchi Japan

 

So our aim is to obtain  more information and we will be renewing our efforts to establish a dialogue with authorities in northern Japan that are responsible for monitoring the Dall’s porpoise hunt.

At the other end of Japan where activists have been camping out in Taiji to try and stop the dolphin hunt, we have seen some small progress this week. A meeting took place on 2nd November between local Taiji officials and campaigners working to stop the hunt. Although early reports suggest that the meeting was somewhat less than amicable, it was well attended by the media which will help raise further awareness in Japan. This is particularly important because the pollution issue has only been rarely reported by Japanese media in the past.

While fully supportive of the ongoing work in Taiji, EIA will continue to focus our efforts on the Dall’s porpoise hunt – even with the recent significant reduction in the catch, many thousands continue to be killed every year and it is still by far the largest cetacean hunt in the world.

Clare Perry

Clare Perry

Cetaceans Campaigner

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12 Responses

  1. Keep up the good work, Clare! It’s unfortunate that the same suspicion and hostility is there even in regions not in the harsh spotlight of The Cove and under constant international pressure.

    I notice that the government-issued catch quotas are down this year from last in every region. In the case of Iwate, down from 14,183 to 13,686. In 2008 it was a bit higher again, which means they only caught about half of their alloted quota. You speculate that the financial viability of the hunt may be the reason, but what about declining numbers of animals?

  2. Clare says:

    Hi Mark, thanks for the words of encouragement! The quotas have been coming down fractionally for some time now, but really this has made no difference to the hunt because they haven’t been catching the whole quota for the last 10 or more years. But you’re right, unfortunately there are many possible reasons for the catch being lower, and it could be that they just can’t find the animals because the populations are so depleted. Abundance data for the Dall’s porpoise and indeed all the dolphins that are hunted around Japan is very sparse – the surveys that have been carried out have been criticised by the Scientific Committee and the fact that catches were so high in the past (more than 40,000 in 1988) would have had a major impact on their status.. I suspect it is a combination of things – Iwate hunters travel to Hokkaido for the May/June hunt in the Sea of Japan and the catch for this hunt is drastically lower, which could indicate that they’re just not making the trip up north. We don’t know… but we mean to find out!

  3. Terrific work, Clare! Thank you for this encouraging report!
    Chisa

  4. Hi Clare – I am learning the blog world and came across your post. Glad I found it/you! My son and I depart for Taiji in 9 days to support the efforts at stopping the dolphin slaughter activities. I am glad to know another committed person is out there doing what they can to save the oceans. All the best and we will follow your efforts!

    All the best,
    Carrie

    • Clare says:

      Thanks Carrie, and sorry for the belated reply – I hope you are ok out there. I follow the Taiji guardians with interest on facebook. All the best.

  5. Mimi says:

    Terrific report, Clare! I wonder what we can do to publicize the Iwate dolphin/whale kills? Many people have now heard of Taiji, but most don’t know about the Iwate hunts. Glad to hear that the numbers are down and hopefully they will continue to drop.

    • Clare says:

      Thanks Mimi – one of the reasons we went to Japan was to do just that – to bring some media attention to the hunt. But most of the work we are doing is behind the scenes and I think its having a good effect. The impact of the Cove and the ongoing work in Taiji is also having a great effect on general awareness of all the dolphin hunts and I think this will continue to grow.

  6. Kim Nakajima says:

    Thank you for this report. I live in Tokyo and had no idea about any of this until I watched The Cove movie a few months ago. Shocking! Unfortunately most of my Japanese friends refuse to watch the Cove movie either because of reports in the media that it was against Japanese people , or because they say they don’t want to see animal cruelty. :-(
    I have lived here for 6 years and am still baffled by this attitude of: if we pretend it isn’t happening, it will go away.
    I will keep trying to educate those around me as much as I can.
    Peace
    Kim

    • Clare says:

      Thanks Kim for your post – its such a shame that your friends will not watch the Cove. I did see one good article in Japanese news where a reporter acknowledged that people should watch the Cove and decide themselves if its anti-Japan or not. Maybe you could refer your friends to some of the Japanese NGOs that work tirelessly on these and other issues, e.g. Elsa Nature Conservancy or IKAN (iruka & kujira action network). All the best.

  7. Jenny says:

    Dear Clare,

    I am unable to send this email to you so I’ll post it here…

    I accidentally stumbled onto this video on you tube today. I originally thought it was sea turtle but turns out it’s American Snapping turtle. Could you pass this on?

    Thanks!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKz8VNwxDso&tracker=False

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKz8VNwxDso&w=480&h=390

    Jennifer Maxwell

  8. […] investigations on the tragic international trade in tiger and elephant parts to protecting cetaceans from whalers out for a quick buck to taking part in conservation efforts on behalf of orangutans […]

  9. Kimi UEDA says:

    Stop cruelty!!

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