Japan Dolphin Day on September 25 was a great success once again, thanks to all the work volunteers around the world did to bring it about.
This year, 83 non-governmental environmental and animal welfare organizations hosted demonstrations in front of Japanese embassies and consular offices in 42 cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, Miami, London, Rome, Bern, Berlin, Brussels, Panama City, and many others. (Last year, there were demos in 34 cities, so efforts are increasing considerably.)
The dolphin drive in Taiji, Japan, is the largest slaughter of dolphins in the world. About 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed throughout Japan every year – more than three times the number of whales killed in the Antarctic by the Japanese Fisheries Agency’s phony “scientific whaling” scheme – and all of the meat tested so far has toxic levels of mercury. Most Japanese people do not know about either the slaughter or the contamination.
During the drive hunts, dolphins are killed in a secret cove hidden away in a national park in the Wakayama prefecture, a few hours’ drive from Osaka and Kyoto. The methods used to capture and kill the dolphins are exceptionally cruel, and Earth Island and the other participating organizations demand that this barbaric practice stop immediately. The cove is covered with tarps and nets, and steel gates, barbed wire, razor ribbon, and guards block access. The government is trying to keep the yearly bloodbath a secret.
We recently learned that much of the dolphin meat is given away to Japanese children for school lunch programs, yet the parents do not know it is toxic. An acute case of mercury poisoning in children looks like mental retardation. In an adult, it looks like dementia. The 1973 Japanese national Kan Nyu Dai 99 Ban mandates no selling or serving of any mercury-tainted food product over the advisory level of 0.4 PPM. It is shocking that the Japanese health ministry, bowing to pressure from the Japanese Fisheries Agency, does not enforce the ban in the case of poisoned dolphin meat.
The Save Japan Dolphins Coalition includes Earth Island Institute, Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan, Animal Welfare Institute, and In Defense of Animals.
Raising the Alarm
In an unprecedented departure from tradition and unwritten policy, two Taiji City Assemblymembers have bravely broken this whaling town’s code of silence to publicly campaign against the serving of what they describe as toxic dolphin meat in local Japanese school lunches.
Independents Junichiro Yamashita and Hisato Ryono recently revealed laboratory data taken from random samples of supermarket-purchased dolphin meat, which contained more than 10 times the government’s limit of both mercury and methyl mercury. Although some local supermarkets immediately removed dolphin meat from their shelves due to efforts of the Save Japan Dolphin Coalition, the city is moving ahead with plans to build a new dolphin meat-processing plant while expanding the dolphin meat lunch programs to surrounding school districts.
Yamashita and Ryono have emphasized that they are not opposed to whaling per se, but they object to serving dangerously toxic dolphin meat to school children.
Mercury poisoning received worldwide attention during the 1950s when the tragic consequences in the Japanese city of Minamata first came to light. There, eating contaminated fish polluted by a local factory caused severe birth defects, retardation, and the deaths of thousands of citizens. Many national governments now routinely issue health bulletins advising pregnant women and children in particular to avoid foods contaminated with mercury and other toxins.
Experts in Japan have voiced alarm that mercury levels recorded in studies of dolphin meat are considerably higher than the mercury levels found in fish in Minamata Bay.
In a nation particularly nervous about the safety of its food supply, the complete stonewalling by Japanese government agencies and the Japanese media on the issue prompted Yamashita and Ryono to bring their case to the attention of the media.
The issue received front-page coverage in The Japan Times, Japan’s English-language newspaper, but other major media outlets ignored the issue. Even some reporters who attended Yamashita’s and Ryono’s press conference were unable to publish their stories. Time recently published the story, and other international outlets are following suit.
The ongoing efforts of IMMP and the Save Japan Dolphins Coalition to stop the slaughter are gaining worldwide attention, but Japan’s Fisheries Agency is still stubbornly clinging to the slaughter and issuing permits to local fishermen to kill dolphins by the thousands.
Federal Court Ruling Final
Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) is celebrating an end to eight years of litigation over the integrity of the Dolphin Safe tuna label. The Bush administration chose not to appeal a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals order, handed down on April 27, prohibiting the weakening of the Dolphin Safe tuna label. The deadline for a Supreme Court appeal has passed.
“At long last the Dolphin Safe label for tuna is safe from the Bush administration’s legal attack,” says David Phillips, director of IMMP. “After eight years of litigation, the administration has realized it must follow the law, as passed by Congress, and cease efforts to allow dolphin-deadly tuna from Mexico falsely labeled as ‘Dolphin Safe’ onto US supermarket shelves.”
With this battle now over, IMMP will focus on:
Continuing international monitoring efforts to ensure that individual tuna companies do not purchase or sell dolphin-deadly tuna;
Working to end the practice of chasing and netting dolphins in countries like Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela. Thousands of dolphins continue to die each year in these countries’ tuna fisheries; and
Better enforcement of the US ban against tuna companies using the Dolphin Safe label on canned tuna illegally.
To see a list of tuna companies that are Dolphin Safe and to get alerts on dolphin-deadly tuna companies, go to www.DolphinSafe.org.
– Mark J. Palmer
Earth Island News
Japan Dolphin Day, London
R. Barany / Marine Connection
We are standing at a pivotal moment in history, one in which education and advocacy around the climate emergency, public health, racial injustice, and economic inequity is imperative. At Earth Island Journal, we have doubled down on our commitment to uplifting stories that often go unheard, to centering the voices of frontline communities, and to always speak truth to power. We are nonprofit publication. We don’t have a paywall because our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.Donate
For $15 you can get four issues of the magazine, a 50 percent savings off the newsstand rate.