There had been much written and said about the impact of mercury on children and adults in Japan and the Faeroe Islands from eating dolphins and pilot whales.

Yes, it is true that the children of the Faeroe Islands have the highest levels of mercury in their bodies of any other group of children on the planet. Yes, it is true that the children in Japan are being fed mercury-polluted school lunches.

So what?

Why should we care?

I don't think we should.

After all, the government and the people of Japan and the Faeroe Islands don't seem to care much about it. If they wish to abuse and poison their own children, there is not much that any of the rest of us can do about it. They seem to view the consumption of toxic whale and dolphin meat as part of their cultures. They have the power to stop it. We don't!

And they are probably right. Who are we to interfere with their cultural right to poison themselves and their own children?

My concern however is with the effect that the methyl mercury is having on the dolphins and the whales. Few people talk about this. There is lots of talk about the consequences to people who eat the flesh of these sentient beings, but not much thought has been given to the fact that the dolphins and the pilot whales are dying of mercury poisoning.

In fact, the increased numbers of strandings of pilot whales and the increased numbers of dolphins found dead from no apparent cause could be from the effects of mercury poisoning.

Logic would dictate that if the meat of these animals is toxic to humans then the dolphins and the pilot whales must be suffering from mercury poisoning themselves.

In fact, heavy metals, PCB's, and other chemicals have been building up in the bodies of aquatic animals for decades. We treat our oceans as chemical dumps and sewers, so it should not be a surprise that fish, sea turtles, marine mammals, and sea-birds are all suffering high levels of toxins in their bodies.

There have been few studies of the effect that mercury is having on marine animals. What the long term impact of this accumulation of methyl mercury and other pollutants will be is unknown. What we do know is that if humans who eat these animals are having health issues, then the animals themselves must be suffering health issues.

I don't think it is our responsibility or our place to go to Japan and the Faeroe Islands and preach health issues in their own communities. Japan and the Faeroe Islands have very high standards of living and very high standards of education. They are aware of the health issues threatening their own citizens. The choices of what to do about it are theirs - not ours.

However, the dolphins in the waters off Japan and the pilot whales in the waters near the Faeroe Islands are not part of Japanese or Faeroese culture. They are of their own culture and it is a culture that is being violently assaulted by the Japanese and Faeroese killers.

As ocean conservation activists, the welfare of the dolphins and the pilot whales is our concern and intervention to defend and protect their lives is our responsibility. These animals are not the property of the Japanese and the Faeroese, they are the victims of these two nationalities.

As ocean conservationists we should remember that it is the dolphins and the pilot whales who are our clients and not the Japanese or the Faeroes people.

Should we be concerned about the health and welfare of people who choose to eat dolphins and whale meat?  I don't think so. No one is forcing them to eat this contaminated meat. There is no economic or subsistence necessity to consume this poison. The choice is theirs and if they choose a path of self destruction then that is their choice, and their choice alone.

I also think this approach of caring for the welfare of the people in Japan and the Faeroes is viewed with suspicion by the Japanese and the Faeroese. They know that it is the welfare of the dolphins that we are concerned with. That is why we are involved in these issues. The fact is that marine wildlife conservation activists and animal welfare people would not be addressing mercury contamination in Japan and the Faeroes if not for the dolphins and the pilot whales.

We should let Japanese and Faeroese health officials, or the United Nations, Doctors Without Borders, or the International Red Cross address the problem of mercury contamination in humans. We need to stick to what we know best and that is defending and protecting these animals from being slaughtered and from being poisoned.

Everything does not always have to be about people. Our role as ocean conservationists is to defend the oceans and the species that inhabit the oceans from people, not for people.

Sea Shepherd
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