Mercury: The Scientific Facts

Take Action | DANGER: Dolphin Meat is Poisoned by Mercury

DANGER: Dolphin Meat is Poisoned by Mercury

People Should Not Eat Dolphin or Whale Meat

We know, from Japanese scientists, that dolphins and small whales are heavily contaminated by mercury.  No one should be eating meat from dolphins and small whales.

Yet the Japanese government, fully aware of the dangers of mercury contamination, ignores this problem and allows mercury-poisoned dolphin and whale meat to be sold in markets.  Japanese consumers are exposed to danger but not warned.

Mercury is the second most toxic poison in the world, second only to plutonium.  Mercury attacks the brain and the nervous system, causing horrible damage to eyesight, hearing, and motor-skills, as well as interfering with memory and thought processes leading to dementia.  It further attacks fetuses in pregnant women, causing terrible life-long brain damage.  Mercury kills.

In Minamata, Japan, poisonous mercury dumped from a factory into Minamata Bay caused severe poisoning of tens of thousands of people in the 1950’s and 60’s and resulted in a whole generation of seriously compromised children.  Japanese scientists have told me that the levels of mercury in dolphin meat are higher than the levels they have seen in the fish of Minamata Bay that caused the so-called “Minamata disease”.  But it is not a disease – “Minamata disease” is poisoning caused by too much mercury in the human body.

Dolphins and small whales are at the top of the food chain in the ocean.  As such, they concentrate pollutants in their meat.  Mercury enters the ocean from a variety of sources, especially from the atmosphere, as coal-fired power plants emit tons of mercury into the air.   As organisms absorb mercury in the ocean, it gets more and more concentrated the higher up the food chain one examines.

Furthermore, studies of people in Japan who eat dolphin meat on a regular basis, such as in the town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, show dangerously high levels of mercury when they are tested.  According to an article in The Japan Times by Boyd Harnell: “Specifically, the tests of 1,137 Taiji residents last year revealed that average MeHg (mercury) levels were 11.00 parts per million (ppm) for men and 6.63 ppm for women — compared with an average of 2.47 ppm for men and 1,64 ppm for women at 14 other locations in Japan.”

The Japan Times story continues: “In a recent telephone interview, (Dr. David) Permutter (one of America’s leading neurologists) said, ‘To me, these (MeHg) levels found in dolphin meat are absolutely dangerous. A study was just published demonstrating that even low levels of mercury profoundly disrupt the blood-brain barrier and increase the presence of inflammatory reactivity in the brain . . .’ ”

The Japan Times story notes: “Meanwhile, Japan's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research has cited mortality figures in Taiji, for 2007, at 67 deaths from a population of some 3,500 residents — putting the town's overall mortality rate more than 50 percent above other villages nationwide of roughly the same population. However Kozagawa, west of Taiji, where dolphin meat is also consumed, showed an even higher rate — with 82 deaths from a population of 3,426 people in 2007.”

For the full Japan Times story from May 2010: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fe20100523a1.html

Japanese scientists, such as Dr. Tetsuya Endo, have conducted extensive scientific studies of mercury contamination of dolphin and small whale meat.  Dr. Endo and his colleagues have found time and time again:

• Mercury levels can be 20 to 5,000 times higher in dolphin and small whale meat than levels recommended by the UN World Health Organization and the Japanese Ministry of Health.

• These levels raise grave issues of poisoning Japanese citizens who consume dolphin and whale meat with mercury.

• In addition to mercury, other dangerous pollutants like PCBs and cadmium can be found in dolphin and small whale meat bought for food in Japanese markets.

• The results of Dr. Endo’s and his colleagues’ research are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

For example, in Dr. Endo’s 2002 study Mercury and selenium concentrations in the internal organs of toothed whales and dolphins marketed for human consumption in Japan published in the journal The Science of the Total Environment, he and his colleagues concluded: “The provisional permitted level of T–Hg (mercury) in marine foods set by the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare is 0.4 mgyg, and the provisional permitted weekly intake (PTWI) set by WHO (World Health Organization) is 5 mgykg bwyweek. The maximal T–Hg detected in boiled liver (1980 mgyg) exceeds the permitted level by approximately 5000 times and the consumption of only 0.15 g of liver exceeds the PTWI of 60 kg of body weight of the consumer, suggesting the possibility of an acute intoxication by T–Hg even after a single consumption of the product.”  See full paper here.

In a 2004 paper in the same scientific journal, Dr. Endo and his colleagues stated in their study Contamination by mercury and cadmium in the cetacean products from Japanese market: “The contamination levels of T-Hg and M-Hg (mercury compounds) in odontocete (toothed whale) red meat, the most popular whale product, were 8.94Å} 13.3 and 5.44Å} 5.72 lg/wet g, respectively. These averages exceeded the provisional permitted levels of T-Hg (0.4 lg/wet g) and M-Hg (0.3 lg/wet g) in marine foods set by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare by 22 and 18 times, respectively, suggesting the possibility of chronic intoxication by T-Hg and M-Hg with frequent consumption of odontocete red meat.”  See full paper here.

In the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Dr. Endo and his colleagues concluded in a paper looking at mercury and PCB levels in dolphin and small whale meat:  “For sensitive consumers and those with high-level consumption (e.g., whaling communities), exposure to mercury and to a lesser extent PCBs from certain whale blubber and bacon and striped dolphin liver products could lead to chronic health effects. The Japanese community should therefore exercise a precautionary approach to the consumption of such foods in excess, particularly by high-risk members of the population.”  From Human health significance of organochlorine and mercury contaminants in Japanese whale meat (2002).  See full paper here.

Earth Island’s Save Japan Dolphins Campaign and several other environmental organizations have asked Japanese laboratories to test dolphin and whale meat for mercury and other contaminants.  These scientific studies by Japanese experts prove that dolphins and small whales contain levels of mercury that are extremely large – often thousands of times higher than levels considered healthy by the Japanese Health Ministry.

In tests conducted on behalf of our colleagues at the Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan and The Japan Times in 2006-07, levels of mercury in dolphin meat was 4 to 13.5 times higher than the maximum level set by the Japanese Health Ministry.  Mercury in pilot whale and Risso’s dolphin meat were even higher, ranging from 9.6 to 30 times higher than health maximums.  The samples of dolphin and small whale meat were purchased randomly in markets in Japan.


You can see the full results of these dolphin meat tests by Japanese scientific labs here.

Reports from our friends the Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan can be found on their website (in English and Japanese): http://en.elsaenc.net/

Other organizations that report on testing of dolphin and whale meat:

Blue Voice: http://www.bluevoice.org/

Environmental Investigation Agency: http://www.eia-international.org/


Photo by Tim Burns.

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