Inhabitants of the notorious dolphin slaughtering township of Taiji have been found to have dangerously high levels of mercury in their bodies, thought to be due to the presence of large amounts of whale meat in their diets.
A scientific study of 1,000 residents of the town of Taiji, in Wakayama prefecture, traditionally a major centre of whale meat consumption, found levels of methyl mercury in the hair of inhabitants to be five times that of Japanese in 14 other locations where whale meat is not generally on the menu.
3% of the Wakayama residents surveyed had levels of mercury contamination over the levels WHO considers likely to cause neurological damage. The residents with the highest levels of contamination were the ones who reported recently eating dolphin and whale.
The National Minamata Disease Research Institute highlights the dangers:
“These findings imply whale consumption is tied to high mercury levels. We did not detect any signs of methyl mercury poisoning, but continuous monitoring of residents with high levels of mercury in their bodies is required.”
The findings have particular resonance in Japan – “Minamata disease,” caused by the contamination of seafood by methyl mercury industrial effluent, killed thousands of Japanese in the 20th century, crippled tens of thousands and resulted in almost a hundred million dollars of compensation being paid to victims by the major polluter.
Heavy metal contamination is a major health hazard associated with eating whale meat – the Japanese government itself advises against consumption by pregnant women and children, and some cetacean meat is banned from supermarket shelves due to excessive contamination.
The contamination itself is due to the natural presence of mercury in the food chain – predators who eat many other creatures, such as whales and tuna, accumulate the chemical in their flesh, a phenomenon which also afflicts humans who eat them.
Such findings are particularly disturbing when taken in conjunction with the not infrequent attempts by whaling advocates (essentially fishermen and crazed nationalists) to force whale meat onto school meals, which most public health bodies would consider the very last place it should be served.
Wags suggest whaling proponents might have been eating too much of the meat…
Leaving aside the issue of whether whale populations can sustain responsible commercial whaling (the evidence seems to suggest they can), the major issue facing whaling advocates appears to be what to do with the meat, which most evidence now suggests is barely fit for human consumption.