Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XIV No. 4 - October 2005

Protest Against Japan's Dolphin Slaughter

By William Rossiter

Japan's dolphin drive fishery slaughter has begun again. Futo's permitted season officially began 1 September with a total catch quota of 600, including 75 bottlenose dolphins, 70 striped dolphins, and 455 spotted dolphins, plus 20 bottlenose dolphins kept alive for sale to captive facilities. Taiji's quota of 2,380 small cetaceans began 1 October. Both will continue until 31 March 2006. The meat will be sold for human consumption, although tests have shown dangerous levels of pollutants (please see related article). The killers say they continue the killing because of profits from sales to the captivity industry. The Japan Cetacean Conference on Zoological Gardens and Aquariums now encourages the buying of more dolphins from the Taiji drive fishery, even pressing for a Taiji quota of striped dolphins, when so many tens of thousands were killed in the 70's that even Japan recognized the need to stop.

October 8th, 2005 was the worldwide day of protest against these Japanese dolphin slaughters, bringing thousands together at Japanese embassies and consulates in over 45 cities. CSI members joined many others, despite heavy rain and a terrorist threat, for the New York demonstration led by Taffy Williams of the NY Whale and Dolphin Action League. The peaceful protests brought public attention to Japan's policies, focusing on the dolphin drive, and sought to have Tokyo get the message that the slaughters caused public and political outrage, and did not serve Japan's long term purposes.

Iki, Japan, 1980

Futo, Japan, 2004

These images are too graphic, but cannot express the horror. The only difference between these graphic images on the top, taken by Howard Hall at Iki, Japan, in 1980, and the images below at Futo in 2004, by Elsa Nature Conservancy, is that extraordinary efforts are made today to keep the slaughter from public view. The dolphins still are herded into shallow bays, confined by nets perhaps for days, and swim in bloodied water as one by one they die from repeated cuts. The traumatized survivors are pulled out for a life of captivity. From all that science can tell us of dolphin communication, cognition, societies, culture, and emotions the suffering cannot be imagined. The dolphins scream, "stress whistles" from panicked, terrified individuals that know what is happening. Why do the Japanese not care about the suffering?

Sakae Hemmi, of Elsa Nature Conservancy, wrote in Japan's Dolphin Drive Fisheries: "Although there is not enough space here to discuss 'traditional culture', this much should be said: Whether something is traditional culture or not, if it entails ignoring human rights, or involves the desecration of animals' lives through exploitation or causing suffering to living things, we should consider changing the way that traditional culture is passed down. Throughout the world and even in Japan, there are many places where the whaling tradition is passed on by museums, or by changing its form into educational activities like dolphin and whale watching and coexistence with wildlife." CSI salutes Sakae for her courageous and persistent campaign to bring honor to her nation, and convince authorities to stop permitting the slaughters. We're doing our best to support Sakae's effort. Read her statement again; her words express a new, even alien concept to many in Japan's insular "traditional culture".

Unrelenting protest and diplomacy will continue, but not alone. While some captive displays are supporting the slaughter, and any others that do not denounce it imply their support, CSI commends the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, and American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) for opposing the drives. The AZA in 2004 said, "The AZA strongly believes that the killing of dolphins and whales in drive fisheries is inhumane and should be terminated immediately." Joining this spectrum of international concern is a growing coalition of scientists willing to express professional disdain for the slaughter and "research", and intensive food safety campaigns.

What if the Japanese consumer was afraid to eat cetacean meat? Contaminated cetacean meat from the slaughters and whaling is sold for human consumption in Japan, in spite of a broad consumer concern for food safety and healthful products. An analysis of 160 samples of small cetacean red meat sold from 2000 to 2003 showed that the total mercury and methyl mercury levels exceeded the provisional permitted levels in fish and shellfish, set by the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare after the Minamata tragedy, the poisoning of the local human population from eating fish contaminated with methyl mercury from industrial waste.

The research was published as: "Total Mercury, Methyl Mercury, and Selenium Levels in the Red Meat of Small Cetaceans Sold for Human Consumption in Japan", by Tetsuya Endo, Koichi Haraguchi, Yohsuke Hisamichi, Merell Dalebout and C. Scott Baker, published in Environmental Science & Technology, 2005, 39, 5703-5708. This is the latest paper from Endo, further refining the data and increasing the samples. The trend is undeniable.

The tested meat was from Dall's porpoise, bottlenose, striped, pan-tropical spotted, rough-toothed, and Risso's dolphins, and short-finned pilot, false killer, and Baird's beaked whale. Japan permits between 17,000 to over 20,000 animals from these nine species to be killed annually in Japanese coastal waters, by drive fisheries, hand-harpoon hunting, and small-type whaling.

Samples from a bottlenose dolphin from Taiji and a striped dolphin were the highest values ever reported. The highest methyl mercury, from a striped dolphin, was 87 times the permitted level. Eating only four grams of this meat would exceed the provisional tolerable weekly intake for a 60 kg human.

Current Japanese Government advisories have become much more conservative, but not enough. In characteristically understated scientific terms, the latest Endo paper pleads for the urgent need to revise the government's advisory to pregnant women still further, extend it to other species of small cetaceans, and acknowledge that cetacean meat could pose health problems for everyone, not just high risk segments of the population such as pregnant women.

But Japanese consumers do not have adequate labels to tell them the species, source, or danger. Meat has been mislabeled, and prohibited species have been found. A growing excuse is that these meats are from "opportunistic" processing of stranded, entangled or ship-struck cetaceans. A Japanese housewife cannot know whether the food she's buying is safe. She may not even know there's a problem, because the government, media and culture combine to suppress information.

What about fish? Local Japanese fisheries unions are concerned that consumers will link fish with contaminated cetaceans caught from the same area. The media hasn't made much of this yet, perhaps through government pressure. It's not known how thorough the government tests are, but public statements downplay the mercury in fish as "natural", instead of industrial waste distributed by runoff and aerial pollution. There is a problem, and it's worsening.

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