Japan’s grim Dall’s porpoise hunt begins once more to supply unwanted, toxic meat

Today (November 1) is the official opening of Japan’s annual Dall’s porpoise hunt, once the largest direct hunt of any whale, dolphin and porpoise in the world.

Otsuchi, in northern Japan, is the focal point of the hand harpoon hunt which has claimed up to 15,000 Dall’s porpoises in previous years.

In the most recent hunting seasons for which information is available, Japan allocated itself a quota of 13,493 Dall’s porpoises in 2013/14, 12,928 in 2014/15 and 12,364 in 2015/16. The catch, however, has been significantly less than the quota for many years  in 2016, just over a thousand porpoises were killed.

coastal hunting boat, Iwate, Japan

Coastal hunting vessel in Iwate, Japan

The Dall’s porpoise hunts, along with dolphin hunts at the notorious cove in Taiji, continue to supply Japanese consumers with cetacean meat loaded with dangerous pollutants, including mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Eight Dall’s porpoise blubber products analysed by Japanese scientists, commissioned by us, revealed high PCB levels, with one product purchased in Shizuoka, near Tokyo, having a concentration of 4ppm, a startling eight times higher than the regulatory level of 0.5ppm.

Once landed, porpoises and dolphins are processed and sold in supermarkets and fish markets throughout the country, sometimes illegally mislabelled as ‘whale meat’ to increase the value of the meat.

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Landed Dall’s porpoises, Otsuchi, Japan

We have been documenting the annual Dall’s porpoise hunts for some 20 years, to raise awareness of the hunts themselves and their negative impact on marine conservation, taking our findings to meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and leading to several resolutions being adopted calling on Japan to stop the hunt.

We have also strived to let Japan’s consumers know that they are purchasing contaminated products with potentially very serious impacts on human health.

Clare Perry, Ocean Campaigns Leader, said: “The vast majority of Japanese citizens are kept in ignorance of the Dall’s hunt, of dangers posed by the toxic meats the Government is allowing them to purchase and even, in many cases, of the actual species they are eating.

“Almost 190,000 Dall’s porpoises have been slaughtered in the past two decades – and all to produce products for which there is barely any demand and sparking repeated condemnation from the IWC.”

Since catch records began in the early 1960s, more than half a million Dall’s porpoises have been deliberately killed in Japan’s coastal waters.