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IWC to focus on human health impacts of toxic whale meat

PANAMA: Campaign groups today welcomed a decision at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to focus more closely on potential negative impacts on human health from the consumption of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises).

A Resolution submitted jointly by the 25 EU member countries at the IWC requested increased cooperation in future with the World Health Organisation (WHO). The resolution, passed by consensus, encourages WHO to review scientific publications regarding contaminants in cetacean products and give updated advice for consumers.

Sigrid Lueber, from OceanCare, stated: “We welcome this resolution which calls upon governments to inform their people about the threats they may be facing when consuming seriously polluted food, so that individuals can make informed decisions about their lives and health.”

Scientists have established a strong link between mercury in cetacean products and a variety of human diseases and medical conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, arteriosclerosis, immune subsystem suppression and hypertension. Threats to children include autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Andy Ottaway, of Campaign Whale, stated: “It’s time that urgent international attention is focused on this unfolding tragedy for whales and dolphins and the people that eat them”.

The Resolution further requests the IWC’s Scientific Committee to remain engaged in the evaluation of relevant scientific data and urges governments to remain vigilant and responsibly inform consumers about health effects, taking steps to counter any negative effects based on rigorous scientific advice and clear risk assessments.

“The highly damaging impacts of human-originated pollutants such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the health of cetaceans and, subsequently, on those consumers who eat cetacean products are significant causes for concern,” said Clare Perry, Senior Campaigner at the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

“We very much hope this will encourage the Japanese Government to take action to prevent the commercial sale of highly contaminated dolphin and whale products and proactively protect their public regarding potential health risks.”

Laboratory analyses of cetacean food products sold in Japan, conducted for EIA, have consistently revealed mercury levels exceeding the Japanese national limit for mercury in seafood of 0.4 parts per million (ppm); one whale product purchased in 2011 contained a staggering mercury level of 21ppm, 50 times the safe limit.

Susan Millward, Executive Director of the Animal Welfare Institute, said: “This is an issue of concern for Arctic whale species as evidenced by Greenland in its White Paper to the IWC that acknowledged the problem of accumulating toxins in the food chain, and referenced a Government health advisory to women of child-bearing age, advising them to avoid whale meat if they want to be completely sure of not exposing the foetus to such contaminants.”

Sandra Altherr, of Pro Wildlife, added: “While early studies focused on the impacts on unborn children, more recent studies have demonstrated that people of all ages can suffer serious negative health impacts through consumption of polluted cetacean products.”


Interviews are available on request: please contact Clare Perry at [email protected] or telephone +34-664348821.



1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses.

2. Campaign Whale is a non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting whales, dolphins and porpoises and their habitats.

3. Pro Wildlife is a Germany-based charity dedicated to the conservation of wildlife, especially of species threatened by international trade.

4. The Animal Welfare Institute is a Washington DC-based non-profit organisation, formed in 1951 and dedicated to alleviating the suffering inflicted on animals by humans.

5. OceanCare is a Swiss non-profit organisation working in the areas of marine pollution, environmental changes, fisheries, whaling, sealing, captivity of marine mammals and public education.


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