Landed Dall's porpoises in Otsuchi, Japan

Scaled-down Dall’s porpoise hunt resumes in Japan

Despite the set-back of last year’s tsunami and the devastating effects it had on local communities, Japan’s annual Dall’s porpoise hunt is back – and with it, the threats to marine conservation and to public health from dangerously contaminated meat products.

The largest direct hunt of any whale, dolphin and porpoise in the world – described by International Whaling Commission (IWC) scientists as “clearly unsustainable” – traditionally commences in Japan on November 1 each year.

The 2011-12 hunt initially looked unlikely to go ahead due to the havoc wreaked in the region by the March 2011 tsunami.

However, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) along with Australian NGO Positive Change For Marine Life (PCFML) has learnt from sources in the region that a scaled-down version of the hunt  resumed in Iwate, northern Japan, in March earlier this year.

The hand harpoon hunt has previously claimed up to 15,000 Dall’s porpoises a year. Along with the ongoing dolphin hunts at Taiji, it continues to supply Japanese consumers with cetacean meat contaminated with dangerous pollutants, including mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); some Dall’s products have been found to contain PCB levels eight times the recommended safe maximum.

EIA has monitored the Dall’s hunt on many occasions in recent years to raise awareness of its detrimental impact on marine conservation and consumer health.

“Most Japanese citizens are kept completely in the dark regarding the Dall’s porpoise hunts, both in terms of the resulting products – which are often mislabelled as ‘whale’ – and the significant health risks of eating such contaminated meat,” said EIA Senior Campaigner Clare Perry.

“Considering the huge scale of the damage inflicted on this region’s population and infrastructure by the tsunami, and how much work remains to rebuild, it’s deeply regrettable that effort has evidently gone into resurrecting this unsustainable, toxic hunt.”

PCFML founder and director Karl Goodsell, who has also been working in Japan, said: “Now is the perfect time for Japan to move towards sustainable industries that will serve them well into the future. Restarting these hunts, that are not only unprofitable due to lack of demand but also pose potential risks to dolphin populations due to over-harvesting, is ludicrous, not only from a conservation perspective, but also from an economic one.”