Monday, November 30, 2009

Toxic Dolphin Meat -- A Human Rights Issue

By Helene O’Barry

Much has changed since 2003 when Ric and I travelled to Taiji, Japan for the first time. Back then, dangerous confrontations with the Japanese dolphin hunters were common. Their aggression and hostility were enormous. Every day at sunrise when we showed up at the dolphin killing cove with our cameras and video recorders to film and expose the dolphin slaughter, the dolphin hunters would push us around and threaten to harm us. “Go home, or we’ll kill you,” they would say. It was easy for them to harass us: There were no witnesses to their actions. We pleaded with the media in Japan and other countries to come to Taiji and cover the story of the dolphin slaughter, but no one was interested. Sometimes it seemed as if we were the only ones who knew about the dolphin slaughter that goes on six months out of the year in this remote fishing village.

Ric O’Barry holds a package of dolphin meat purchased in a Japanese market.
Photo by Boyd Harnell.

We would campaign in Taiji and Futo for weeks at a time, and those were weeks filled with anguish and sleepless nights. It seemed impossible that we would ever be able to generate any interest for this issue on an international level. At that time, the issue of the dolphin slaughter was primarily one of animal cruelty, and the dolphin hunters loved it. They loved it because it was an approach they could argue against with relative ease. “You eat cows and pigs in the Western world. We eat dolphins, what’s the difference?” they would say.

Turning the dolphin slaughter into an issue of food culture gave them an argument that seemed valid to some. But that is not the case anymore. Things have changed. The keyword to that change is “poison.” The dolphin meat sold to an unsuspecting Japanese public is poisoned, contaminated with mercury, metylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other toxins that accumulate up the food chain. It is only a matter of time before the Japanese public realizes that the dolphin hunters, supported by their government, have been selling them poison to eat. How much mercury have the Japanese coastal populations consumed without knowing it? And how many more people will be poisoned before a ban on the sale of toxic dolphin meat is implemented? Now that science has proven the presence of high levels of toxins in dolphin meat, through the efforts of environmental groups including the Save Japan Dolphins Coalition, the entire world will be watching and waiting for a reaction from the Japanese government.


Japan has a new Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety, Ms. Mizuho Fukushima. At a press conference held in Tokyo, Ms. Fukushima agreed to investigate the mercury issue. This gives us hope that the Japanese public will finally be told the truth about the poisonous dolphin meat, and that the meat will be pulled from shelves in supermarkets and never again be served in schools and workplaces. You can help our campaign by sending a message to Ms. Fukushima. Your letter can be short:

“Dear Ms. Mizuho Fukushima:

Scientific studies have demonstrated that dolphin and whale meat is highly toxic and not fit for human consumption, due to contamination from methylmercury, mercury, PCBs, and other poisons. Please prevent any further damage to the health of the Japanese people by banning the sale of dolphin and whale meat immediately.


Your name and contact information.”

Please send your letter to:
Minister of the Consumer Affairs Agency
Ms. Mizuho Fukushima
Sanno Park Tower
2-11-1 Nagatacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Japan 100-6178
Fax: +81-3-3500-4640
Keiko Ueda, legislative Aide to Ms. Mizuho Fukushima, Member of the House of Councillors, Social Democratic Party

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