By Hannah Jennings
The annual Taiji dolphin hunts, which run from September to March, are known for their extreme cruelty. However, it is lesser known that the meat from these dolphins contain high levels of mercury.
Mercury is a naturally occurring element in the Earth’s crust. It is absorbed by small bacterias, where it then works its way up the food chain into fish and shellfish. Large predatory fish and mammals often have higher levels of mercury than smaller fish due to the process of bioaccumulation.
Humans are at risk of mercury poisoning from the continued consumption of large fish and sea mammals such as dolphins and whales. Ingesting high levels of mercury can have many adverse effects on human health. Dr Russell Fielding, Assistant Professor at Coastal Carolina University, has found that, “long-term exposure to Hg (mercury) has been tied to negative neurological, cardiovascular, developmental, immunological, and reproductive human health effects in humans.”
Slices of dolphin meat. Photo taken in Taiji in 2009.
The Minister for Health, Welfare and Labour in Japan recommends levels below 0.4 parts per million of total mercury is safe for human consumption. Despite this, our investigations found dolphin meat with up to 25 times this level of mercury is being sold throughout Japan. Our criminal complaint intends to shed light on the public health risks associated with the consumption of this toxic dolphin meat.
By bringing this criminal complaint against the sale of toxic dolphin and whale meat, we are calling on the government to remove these products from supermarket shelves, restaurants and online. Although the complaint focuses on the human health aspects associated with dolphin meat consumption, our aim is to impact the economic viability of the hunts – bringing an end to the cruel slaughter.
In addition to the complaint, by highlighting the negative effects of mercury present in dolphin meat in Japanese media, we are aiming for a decline in public demand for dolphin products. This drop in consumer demand for dolphin meat would be a massive hit to the Taiji dolphin hunting industry.
As calls to end the hunts from an animal rights standpoint have been dismissed, by presenting this issue from a human health standpoint we will be able to not only protect people from the consumption of unsafe meat, but also save many dolphins from a senseless slaughter.