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Friday, August 03, 2007

Taiji Dolphin Killers May Be Dumbest People in World

Mercury poisoning destroys brain tissue, and people who consume mercury-contaminated meat are certainly demonstrating that their powers of reasoning have been seriously diminished. 

For years, the people of Taiji, Japan and other Japanese communities have been eating the flesh of defenseless dolphins that have been slaughtered in the most horrifically cruel manner imaginable. And for years, they have been eating flesh that is heavily polluted with one of the most toxic heavy metals in the world - mercury.

But finally some people in Japan are waking up to the realization that consuming dolphin meat is not only bad news for dolphins, it is also bad news for people. Despite the fact that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) and other conservation groups have been warning about mercury and other contaminants in dolphin meat for years, the killing has continued, and the build-up of toxins in the bodies of men, women, and children consuming dolphin flesh has steadily increased.

This week, for the first time ever, elected officials in the Japanese town of Taiji have spoken out against the practice of slaughtering dolphins. Taiji City Assemblymen Junichiro Yamashita (59), and Hisato Ryono (51) said they are very worried about the extremely high levels of mercury and methylmercury levels found in samples of dolphin meat taken from the pilot whales slaughtered on the beaches of Taiji. The two assemblymen, both Independents, spoke out against feeding dolphin meat to children in school lunches, accusing the schools of feeding "toxic waste" to their children.

Yamashita said, 'We're not against traditional whaling, but we heard claims that pilot whales are poisoned with mercury, and we discovered that some of this meat from the drive fisheries was fed to kids in school lunches." At first, the assemblymen said they did not believe the reports of contaminated meat, which came from western conservation organizations. "We tested some samples purchased at the Gyoko supermarket in Taiji and Super Center Okuwa in the nearby city of Shingu," Yamashita explained.  They were "shocked" by the results.

One dolphin sample had a mercury content 10 times above the Ministry of Health's advisory level of 0.4 parts per million and a methylmercury readout more than 10 times greater than the Ministry's advisory level of 0.3 parts per million.

According to Dr. Shigeo Ekino of Kumamoto Medical Science University in Kyushu, mercury levels in the Taiji dolphin meat are much higher than the samples of mercury-tainted seafood tested during the famous Minamata mercury poisoning disaster of the 1970's. In Minamata, thousands of people were afflicted, and hundreds became disabled or died. Numerous birth defects also occurred.

The assemblymen presented Masahiko Tamaki of Wakayama Prefecture's health department with the results of their testing. Tamaki responded that he was hesitant to take any action that would upset the Taiji fishermen and afraid of political repercussions. He offered no solutions, and said that he would not take any action.

Yamashita responded to this inaction by stating, "According to the high mercury results, people who eat dolphin flesh will be harmed. This harm, spread through school lunches, is terrible, because children will be forced to eat mercury tainted dolphin."

Captain Paul Watson, founder and president of SSCS, remarked, "It seems to me that Tamaki and all the fishermen of Taiji should be given the Darwin Award for collective mass stupidity. It appears that killing their own kids to uphold a so-called blood tradition will bring on a well deserved tragedy for the violent and brutal town of Taiji."

To illustrate this stupidity, Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen plans to build a new slaughterhouse for processing the meat of dolphins and pilot whales caught in the dolphin drives and viciously slaughtered upon the beaches. He also wants to expand the provision of school lunches containing pilot whale meat.

Every year, more than 20,000 gentle, intelligent, and socially complex dolphins are violently and cruelly murdered on Japanese beaches.

Dr. Ekino said, "Everyone should avoid eating dolphin meat. If people continue to eat dolphin, there's a high probability of them having damage to their brains. . . . No government agency is studying the problem, and no scientists in Japan want to study the subject.  It's very political."

At this moment, 12 dolphins-the survivors of a recent mass slaughter-are being held captive in pens in Taiji. These "spared" animals await shipment to a dolphin aquarium in the Dominican Republic.

"This is one of the most barbaric exploitations of animals on the planet," said Captain Watson. "The Japanese are slaughtering tens of thousands of dolphins and selecting a choice few to sell into a lifetime of slavery. They are feeding poison to their children and refusing to acknowledge the very real scientific evidence that dolphin meat is toxic. What really annoys me is that no one is talking about the effects of the high levels of mercury on the more intelligent brains of the dolphins. The Japanese fishermen and politicians can poison their own children if that is what they wish to do. But to pump poisons into the ecosystems which weaken and kill dolphins and to add insult to injury by viciously driving dolphins onto the beaches to spear, stab, and slash to death is our business. The Japanese politicians may not care about their children, but we do care about our clients, the dolphins and whales."

In an interview with the Japan Times, American neurologist David Perlmutter said, "I totally agree with Dr. Ekino when he said everyone should avoid eating dolphin meat-the consumption of dolphin meat is a profound health risk for humans." Referring to Japan's health advisories warning pregnant women that consuming dolphin meat "can be harmful to the fetus and to young children," Perlmutter, who has a private practice at his clinic in Naples, Florida, said, "If it's a risk for pregnant women and children, why is it safe for anyone else?"

Tetsuya Endo, a professor and researcher at Hokkaido Health Science University's faculty of pharmaceutical sciences, backed the other doctors' condemnation of small-cetacean food products. In a terse e-mail sent to the Japan Times, Endo said, in reference to dolphin meat, "It's not food!" In 2005, Endo published the results of a three-year study on random samples of cetacean food products sold throughout Japan and concluded that it was all unhealthy due to high levels of mercury and methylmercury.

Demonstrating that Japanese politicians and bureaucrats have much smaller brains than dolphins, Hideki Moronuki, deputy director of the government's Far Seas Fisheries Division of the Resources Management Department, maligned Endo's study in an interview with The Japan Times, calling it "misleading information." When pressed, though, he failed to substantiate this allegation.

Endo responded to the Japan Times in an e-mail, saying, "If he (Moronuki) has any basis for his comments, he has the responsibility to show it, because it is deeply related to human health." Moronuki was specifically asked if there was a mercury problem with dolphins. His response: "No." Moronuki acknowledged that doctors' reports of high mercury levels may be correct, but claimed, "I don't think it causes a problem with consumers." When asked if he thought consuming dolphin meat was dangerous, Moronuki said, "No." However, he conceded that eating too much dolphin meat could be "dangerous." Moronuki was also asked if he felt responsible for the poisoning of his own people. He replied: "No. I am responsible for the management of the dolphin fishery, that's it."

According to the Japan Times, this bureaucrat's attitude flies in the face of certified copies of six test reports commissioned and paid for over the past year, each showing high mercury levels in the meat put on sale from all dolphin species tested. This hard data has been made freely available by the Japan Times to the appropriate Japanese government agencies and officials. Nevertheless, government authorities have consistently displayed a sense of apathy toward these matters, and what many informed commentators regard as dangerously cavalier attitudes in dealing with urgent health issues affecting their citizens.

Makoto Tanaka, assistant director of the health ministry's inspection and safety division in the Food Safety Department, would only say that he is seeking an international standard for establishing a new advisory level for consumers of mercury-tainted food products. The Health Ministry has been aware of the mercury problem in small cetaceans (not to mention in the meat from great whales) for many years, but so far, it has refused to ban the sale of such food products. In particular-despite unequivocal scientific test results-it has failed to require the posting of warning labels for consumers of dolphin and whale meat.

This approach continues despite an advisory order under which a warning was issued to prefectural and local governments by the then director of the environmental and health agency.  Kan Nyu Dai 99 Ban, established July 23, 1973, stated that mercury levels in seafood must not exceed the advisory level of 0.4 ppm. Although still in effect, enforcement of the advisory order by governors and mayors has been lax and unchallenged.

But the reaction of residents near the killing grounds of Taiji was swift. On the one hand, Gyokyo, the leading local supermarket, pulled pilot whale meat off its shelves.  According to Takuya Kondo, assistant director of the Health Ministry's Department of Food Safety's Standards and Evaluation Division, Gyokyo will not resume the sale of pilot whale meat.

Kondo said, "The [Taiji] government has to comply with . . . provisional regulations. . . . They are not supposed to sell [dolphin meat] if it is over the advisory level of 0.4 ppm for mercury."
Yamashita and Ryono believe that many Japanese people are unaware of the health problems related to consuming dolphin meat. They want to educate people through an Internet blog currently posted by the Save Japan Dolphins coalition, an international conservation group.

It would be a lot more straightforward if this issue was addressed in a more open and accountable way by government officials. Instead, a pervasive sense of paranoia seems to loom over any investigation of the mercury contamination of foodstuff in Japan. When Japan Times reporter Boyd Harnell visited a test lab, his sample of dolphin meat was initially rejected for testing by lab officials, who greeted Harnell with a file of his articles on the barbaric dolphin slaughter in Taiji and the toxicity of cetacean meat sold in Japan.

One lab official said: "Sometimes happens big problem, I must confirm your purpose. . . . We cannot stand in opposite position of Fishery Agency. . . . If you publish our report, we'll have to close the lab." The lab later conducted the test, after learning that the test result would determine whether a potentially dangerous public health hazard existed.

The vicious dolphin drive at Taiji was first exposed to international attention in October 2003, when a SSCS crew member documented the slaughter and sent images to the international media. In November 2003, SSCS field activists Captain Alex Cornelissen and Allison Lance Watson again attracted international attention to the killing when they dove into the waters of Taiji Bay and cut nets, freeing 15 dolphins and pilot whales. Cornelissen and Lance Watson were jailed for three weeks for the "crime" of saving the lives of the dolphins.

SSCS crew members were permanently banned from Taiji in 2004.  Undaunted, SSCS continues to send undercover operatives into the community to protect dolphins and expose their killers. "Perhaps this toxic scare may put an end to the killing on the beaches," said Cornelissen. "Perhaps the idea of their brains being rotted away by mercury in the dolphin flesh may finally penetrate their dulled, dim, dumb human minds. But what is this mercury doing to the brains of the dolphins who have little choice, because the poison is dumped into their habitat? Will we stop the slaughter on the beaches only to lose the dolphins to the chemical assault by humans on their marine habitat? What we do know is that there is no rational justification for force-feeding poison to children. It is a monstrous act of irresponsibility, and Japanese children will suffer like the dolphins are suffering, all because of a bureaucratic denial of reality."

Special thanks to Boyd Harnell of the Japan Times for the information provided in this posting. SSCS has opposed the slaughter of dolphins since 1982, when Captain Watson first negotiated the end to the dolphin drive at Iki Island, Japan. The hunt there was shut down for two decades, but unfortunately resumed in 2002.