In London on Wednesday 3rd September, as a representative of the fantastic organisation Campaign Whale, I joined one of the 25 peaceful protests taking place outside Japanese Embassies around the world. Various animal welfare organisations joined forces and together united, protested against Japans continued slaughter of around 20,000 small cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises and small whales) each year.
One of the dolphin slaughters takes place in a small village called Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture. The process in which they kill the dolphins and whales is absolutely horrific (as is the killing of most animals). They herd them into killing coves, turning the water red with blood.
The Black and White Dall’s porpoises, known in Japanese as ‘‘ishi iruka,’’ are hunted and killed by hand-thrown harpoons. These killings in Japan are the largest massacre of cetaceans anywhere in the world.
japan defends the cull, arguing that strict quotas are set to prevent species becoming endangered and all killing is done in as humane a way as possible.
Profit versus planet
In the Japanese culture, dolphin, whale and porpoise meat are popular dishes. The meat is sold to the general public and even marketed as brain food for young children. The industry is very profitable for the fishermen and the Government which is why they are reluctant to stop hunting and killing these beautiful marine species.
However the meat, as is a lot of seafood these days, is contaminated with mercury, methyl-mercury and PCBs. Repeated chemical analyses have shown that the level of mercury in the meat from the slaughtered dolphins in Taiji is much higher than the maximum allowable level set by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare of Japan.
I believe that the government is aware of this and is knowingly allowing members of the public including young children and pregnant women to be put at health risk.
I have read that mercury damages the central nervous system, endocrine system, kidneys, and other organs, and adversely affects the mouth, gums, and teeth. Exposure over long periods of time or heavy exposure to mercury vapor can result in brain damage and ultimately death.
The Dolphin Day protests have been highlighting the human welfare side of the slaughter of dolphins too. Protestors believe that the Japanese public should be made aware of the health risks of eating contaminated seafood such as dolphin meat.
The protests on a number of occasions have been accused of being racist against Japanese and their culture. People who defend the cull and eating of cetaceans in Japan have said that the rest of the world is hypocritical.
Well, in a way this is correct….
Dolphin friendly tuna – I don’t think so
I hope that you are not one of those hypocrites and thinking it’s terrible that they are killing dolphins yet right now you are munching on a tuna sandwich. Yes, tuna might not be as cute as dolphins but they are important and are classified as Marine MegaFauna (large animals) like dolphins. Bluefin Tuna can grow up to two metres long and can weigh 500kg.
I read a statistic that Sainsbury’s alone sells 665,000 tins of tuna a week. You may think you were being ethical when you pick up a tin featuring the ‘Dolphin Friendly Tuna’ label however sorry to burst your bubble but there ain’t such a thing. Sorry but there isn’t ok.
Tuna are strong, amazing, fast swimming fish, so in order for fishermen to catch them they either use vast purse-seine nets to scoop them out of the sea or use trail lines of baited hooks many miles long.
Such methods are undiscriminating against any other marine species. By fishing for tuna (so you can have that sarnie or tuna pasta bake) the fishermen end up also catching non-targeted species too, known as bycatch.
A range of species get caught up in the process, including the occasional cetacean but mainly a large shocking number of popular species such as turtles, albatrosses and that less popular yet hugely misunderstood species the shark.
I used to fear sharks because of the movie Jaws, it scared the hell out of me as a child and I would not go swimming in the sea. Now I really appreciate sharks and instead I am now scared of their survival becuase of how many are being killed for shark fin soup or as bycatch on long line fishing nets. I will write a more detailed post about sharks in the future, in the mean time back to the topic!
Ethics and the world’s diet
Whilst the Japanese government is committing crime by allowing the slaughter and its people to eat dolphin meat with high mercury levels in, I would like to highlight that it’s not the general publics fault in most cases as they do not know.
Like you may not know about the long line tuna nets getting other species, or as I have posted about before the Scottish salmon industry killing seals so you can enjoy your smoked salmon and egg breakfast.
What I am highlighting is that all over the world many people unknowingly eat foods that have ethical and also health implications. It can be hard to know what is good to eat and in this modern world, food is extremely political.
Food for thought
However if you love animals and want to protect the planet and to be part of the solution and not the problem then it is my personal belief that you should go vegan or at least vegetarian.
However even as a vegan or vegetarian, I know it is hard to be completely ethical. I’m vegan but then I get faced with dilemmas such as knowing what products may have palm oil in it (which is causing deforestation and loss of habitat for many species).
At the start of the year I pledged to eat more local food, however since I have moved to join my fiancé I regret to say I have sinned on this. However I have discovered an organic farm shop that I can cycle to, so will do that.
I hope that overall my article has given you some food for thought and if you want to get actively involved in protecting Whales and Dolphins then I highly recommend you support Campaign Whale.