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Public health threat increases as Japan’s largest dolphin slaughter begins

LONDON: Campaigners are warning of the risk of a public health disaster unfolding in Japan while condemning the largest cetacean hunt in the world, which begins today in Japan’s coastal waters.

Up to 15,000 porpoises will be killed and their meat sold throughout Japan, despite an international moratorium on commercial whaling. The meat is sold for human consumption even though it contains dangerously high levels of toxic chemicals such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency and Campaign Whale jointly released the results of new chemical tests on 12 samples of Dall’s porpoise meat and blubber on sale in Iwate during March 2010. Eleven of the 12 products carried mercury and methyl-mercury levels in excess of Japan’s regulatory limits (0.4 and 0.3ppm, respectively), set to protect public health. The average mercury concentration in the 12 products was 1.1ppm, 2.75 times higher than the regulatory limit.

Clare Perry, EIA Senior Campaigner, said: “Dall’s porpoise products are sold locally in large quantities and customers are never warned that they contain high levels of mercury. In fact, they are encouraged to eat a lot of it as it’s sold for as little as 100 yen per 100g (£0.78/100g), compared to 300 yen for beef.”

While the dolphin drive hunt in Taiji, Japan, has received wide media coverage in recent months, 85-90 per cent of the 19,000 small whales, dolphins and porpoises killed in Japanese waters every year are Dall’s porpoises.

Dall’s porpoises are killed in hand-thrown harpoon hunts in northern Japan, an event that has remained the largest cetacean slaughter in the world for more than a quarter of a century. With fewer porpoises approaching the harpoon boats, some Japanese hunters now chase nursing porpoises, leaving their calves to starve.

The Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has repeatedly expressed its concern that these hunts are “clearly unsustainable”. However, although the number of animals killed appears to have declined in recent years, the Japanese Government still refuses to cooperate with the IWC on this issue and quotas remain at about 15,000 animals.

Falling catch levels could be due to a variety of factors; wholesale market prices for Dall’s porpoise meat have dropped from an average of 280 yen per kg in 2004 to 155 yen in 2008, possibly related to increased awareness of associated health risks as well as the glut of whale meat available as a result of Japan’s killing of other species. But despite lower catches, the Dall’s hunt is still the largest cetacean hunt in the world.

Andy Ottaway, Director of Campaign Whale, said: ‘We are very concerned that people in Japan are threatening their health and possibly that of their children by unwittingly eating Dall’s porpoise meat that is dangerously contaminated with poisons such as mercury and PCBs. We hope that the Japanese Government will act responsibly, stop these cruel and unsustainable hunts and take dolphins and porpoises off the menu.”

A briefing entitled ‘Stop the Dall’s Disaster’, still pictures and video clips are available on request.


Editors’ Notes

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

2. 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. It is the largest direct hunt of any whale, dolphin or porpoise species in the world.

3. The IWC Scientific Committee has expressed its concern over the unsustainability of Japan’s Dall’s porpoise hunt 12 times in the past 16 years.

4. The International Whaling Commission affords no protection for small cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises), which are under increasing threat from direct hunting, entanglement in fishing gear, over-fishing of prey species and pollution.

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