International Marine Mammal Project

Earth Island News

Japanese supermarket bans dolphin meat

On December 26, 2006, the director of food products for the Okuwa Supermarket Corporation, Mr. Yasunari Kanki, banned the sale of all dolphin meat in all of their stores throughout Japan. The ban is now permanent, according to a statement from Okuwa: “We have decided, as a matter of company policy, that we will discontinue permanently the sale of dolphin meat.”

IMMP’s Save Japan Dolphins Coalition (which includes Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan, Animal Welfare Institute, and In Defense of Animals) applauded this major development in our efforts to stop the Japanese dolphin slaughter. Okuwa is the first chain in Japan to reject selling contaminated dolphin meat – a tremendous breakthrough. Our Coalition members formally thank the Okuwa Supermarket chain for its landmark decision to protect the Japanese people from contaminated food products.

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During the Coalition’s recent investigations in the Japanese fishing village Taiji, where each year hundreds of dolphins are brutally slaughtered, we have been able to obtain dolphin meat from local markets to be checked for contamination, especially from mercury. Dr. Tetsuya Endo of the Hokkaido Health Science University, the Dai Ichi Health Science University, and New Zealand Health Science University conducted a three-year joint study of mercury levels in dolphin meat from dolphins caught off the coast of Japan – including Taiji. That study found very high levels of mercury in every sample of dolphin meat that they tested. Their conclusion: Nobody should consume dolphin meat. Dr. Endo is a highly respected Japanese scientist. His report on mercury-tainted dolphin meat was published in 2005.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Minister of Health and Welfare has known about the danger but has chosen not to warn the public about it.

On December 12, 2006, we bought a package of striped dolphin meat from a local supermarket and delivered it to The Japan Times in Tokyo to be independently tested. The results were dramatic: The second random sample of dolphin meat sold at the supermarket was tested for total mercury with a readout of 5.40 ppm – 14 times above the government’s advisory level of 0.4 ppm. Our first sample tested in February 2006 contained 1.77 ppm of mercury, more than four times the advisory level.

Take Action: For further information on the Save Japan Dolphins Coalition effort to end the Japan dolphin slaughter, go to

Now that the Okuwa Supermarket Corporation has banned the sale of all dolphin meat in all of their stores, the ban is official and permanent. The supermarket chain and conglomerate is comprised of drugstores, movie theaters, home store centers, sports clubs, hotels, and amusement facilities.

Richard O’Barry, speaking on behalf of the Coalition, called the announcement “a bold decision that should immediately be followed by other sources of this toxic meat. We also salute the only newspaper in Japan reporting this most urgent and controversial issue. Journalist and photographer Boyd Harnell wrote the story for The Japan Times.”

Approximately 23,000 dolphins, porpoises, and other small whales are slaughtered in Japan every year. David Phillips, director of IMMP stated: “It is crucial that we track where all this poisoned dolphin meat is going and stop its sale. The Japanese public deserve better than to have this toxic product on their store shelves, and dolphins deserve better than this cruel slaughter.”

O’Barry added: “We must also get the dolphin trainers and dolphin dealers out of Taiji. Leading aquariums and swim-with-dolphin dealers are subsidizing the Japan dolphin slaughter by paying $50,000 or more for a few ‘show’ dolphins from the catch – the rest of the pod is slaughtered for dolphin meat on the Japanese market for much less money.”

California cracks down on the Navy’s sonars

IMMP and other groups have been pressing for years to curtail the use of intense military sonars, which blast some of the loudest underwater sounds ever produced by humans. Experimental Low Frequency Active (LFA) Sonar, at peak level, produces a noise equivalent to standing five feet from the space shuttle on take-off.

Now, for the first time, a government agency has voted to quiet the use of such intense sonars in California waters, a major step in our ongoing efforts. On January 10, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) voted to require the Navy to reduce ocean noise pollution from intense sonars during training exercises offshore southern California.

Under the provisions of the federal Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), federal agencies must ensure that any activities that affect the state’s coastal zones are “consistent” with the coastal protection plans of those states. For the first time, the Navy, under pressure from a series of lawsuits filed by environmentalists, approached the CCC asking for a consistency determination on their training activities, which have been going on for years.

After two hearings and substantial public testimony, led by IMMP and other members of the Ocean Noise Coalition, the CCC agreed to adopt a consistency determination, but only if the Navy adopted stronger protections for whales and other marine life.

The Navy has adopted measures to reduce sonar pollution, but these measures depend on naval personnel stationed on ships and in aircraft spotting the whales or dolphins in proximity to the sonars. For example, while the Navy had agreed previously to reduce sonar use during times of low visibility and at night, they would do so based on the total discretion of the Navy. The CCC required, instead, that sonar use be automatically reduced in volume unless needed to avoid emergencies. The CCC also requested that the Navy take more time to scan an area for marine mammals before using intense sonars.

The most important restriction involves the overall volume of sound that impinges on whales. The Navy wants to use a noise level of 173 decibels as the upper limit – this is roughly the equivalent on land of the noise made by a riveting shop or forge, or louder! The CCC required that the noise level received by marine mammals be no louder than 154 decibels.

In our testimony, IMMP noted that 154 decibels was still an extremely loud sound (equivalent to noise generated by a superhighway or the New York subway). And while such noise levels were unlikely to kill or injure whales (as higher sound levels have been documented to do), such noise levels would interfere with the whales’ own use of sound to navigate, find food and mates, and communicate with their pod mates. Nonetheless, the adoption of the 154-decibel limit by the CCC is far lower than the Bush administration has allowed for federal agencies.

It is unclear what will happen next. The Navy could comply with the restrictions of the CCC, or the Navy could ignore the restrictions, arguing (as Navy representatives did in the public hearings) that the CCC has no jurisdiction on the Navy’s offshore training exercises. If so, this could set up a confrontation in the courts between the state and federal government over the CZMA.

The Navy testified that the country is at war, but critics point out that none of the countries or terrorist groups that comprise our current “enemies” possess sophisticated submarines that require intense sonars to detect.

The CCC received more than 16,000 e-mail messages from the public asking them to protect the whales from intense Navy sonars. IMMP thanks all those who wrote in and testified in opposition.

Court hears tuna-dolphin arguments

The Bush administration continues its efforts to gut the successful Dolphin Safe tuna label found on cans of tuna throughout the US. On November 16, 2006, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments from the Bush administration and several tuna fishing nations that continue to kill dolphins that associate with tuna schools. Currently, the Dolphin Safe label, which the Bush administration wants to weaken (so that tuna caught by chasing, netting, and even killing dolphins can be considered Dolphin Safe) is protected by a court ruling in October 2004 by federal Judge Thelton Henderson.

IMMP and our coalition of environmental and animal welfare groups was represented by attorney Richard Mooney, appearing pro bono from the law office of Holme, Roberts, and Owing. Attorneys Ariela St. Pierre and Joshua Floum assisted Mooney in developing his arguments.

The court is now in deliberations. IMMP expects a decision this coming spring or early summer. To date, the Bush Administration has repeatedly lost the case to previous court decisions.

There is still much to do to protect dolphins from the tuna industry, but our progress to date has been upheld by the federal courts over the objections of the dolphin killers and their cronies in the Bush Administration.

Food Lion drops dolphin-deadly tuna

The Food Lion chain of supermarkets, based in North Carolina, has agreed to immediately cease all purchases from Dolores Tuna, packed by PINSA of Mexico. The suspension was the result of documentation provided by IMMP that the tuna is caught by the intentional chasing and capture of dolphins.

Food Lion’s letter to IMMP states that: “Food Lion has decided to cease purchasing canned tuna products unless and until such time as the manufacturer receives the ‘Dolphin Safe’ certification.”

“Time and time again, consumers have made it clear that they do not want to buy tuna caught by the cruel capture and killing of dolphins,” stated David Phillips, director of IMMP. “Dolores Tuna is a product of the largest dolphin-killing tuna company in the world. We’re pleased that Food Lion has recognized that the tuna products they sell should not contribute to the dolphin slaughter.”

In the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP) off Mexico and Latin America, dolphins swim with schools of tuna. Fishermen chase and net the dolphins on the surface, knowing that tuna are swimming below. More than seven million dolphins have been killed in the tuna fishery since the late 1950s when large purse seine nets were first introduced.

Take Action: Report any Dolores tuna being sold in US markets by calling IMMP at (415) 788-3666 or e-mailing For more information on how to spot suspicious labels, visit

Dolores Tuna has tried various tricks to get their dolphin-deadly product onto US supermarket shelves. They tried using a Dolphin Safe label until such illegal shipments were blocked by the US Customs Agency based on a complaint from IMMP. Now they have tried to use a phony certification from the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) that their tuna is Dolphin Safe. US law does not accept the weak and unverified IATTC standard.

Dolphin populations have failed to recover from the effects of continued chase, capture, and drowning of dolphins in the ETP. Furthermore, studies by scientists with the US National Marine Fisheries Service demonstrate that dolphins are dying in nets from physiological stress and injuries,
factors that would also cause the deaths of dolphins after they have been released from the nets. Furthermore, baby dolphins are separated from their mothers during the chase by tuna boats. These deaths go unrecorded by onboard observers on the tuna vessels.

“By selling dolphin-deadly tuna from Mexico, Food Lion threatened to undermine the fine job being done by tuna companies and supermarkets in the US and around the world that adhere to strict Dolphin Safe standards. We are glad that Food Lion has done the right thing,” Phillips added.

Far Ocean Sea Products kills marine mammals

IMMP has issued a warning to fish processors, brokers, and tuna trade offices that Far Ocean Sea Products of Singapore is apparently selling albacore tuna that was caught in gillnets. Tuna companies approved as Dolphin Safe by IMMP must refuse tuna fished with gillnets. Because Far Ocean is not an IMMP-approved Dolphin Safe company, any company purchasing from them will lose their Dolphin Safe status.

Drift gillnets longer than 1.5 miles are currently banned in worldwide waters by the United Nations. But some fishers continue to use them illegally.

Far Ocean is selling albacore at below-market rates throughout the world, undercutting the efforts of companies committed to protecting marine life and dolphins. IMMP approached Far Ocean in the past to become a Dolphin Safe tuna company, but they have so far refused.

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