CNN.com reports this morning on “Fried dolphin on menu in japanese town”. I do not want to bear on the ethical issues of harvesting dolphins. Every culture has their animals they eat that other cultures are disgusted by, as stated in the article:
“Locals know they offend Western sensibilities by eating dolphins, but they say it’s a tradition hundreds of years old. And they say outsiders have no more right to tell them to stop eating dolphins than they would have to demand that Westerners stop slaughtering chickens or cows.”
In Sweden, some villages eat horse. In the U.S. we eat all sorts of strange variants of things. In the U.K., well, lets just face it, who even likes english food?? Here is rural Pennsylvania, deer is hunted like crazy and you can find all sorts of deer-inspired dishes. Conversely in Japan, deer are considered sacred and not eaten, yet there is no outcry by the japanese for american hunters to stop. Unfortunately, the IUCN Red List denotes the Bottlenose Dolphin’s status as DD for Data Deficient. Hence, there is not enough to evaluate the species’ conservation status. Dolphin is also hunted in other parts of the world. I am certain there will be comments decrying the killing and inhumanity of the way they are slaughted. This is not what I want to discuss though.
What is on my mind is the health of the consumers. One thing I am slowly learning in conservation issues is that if you want people to stop doing something, you need to 1) demonstrate that it harms them directly and 2) it is in their best interest to stop a practice. This dolphin story is a case in point, one of many out there that needs to emphasize the human element. Here at Deep Sea News we have a theme of concern for people’s health and their seafood consumption choices.
What the CNN.com article does point out is that dolphin meat contains extremely high mercury levels.
“Complicating the debate are findings suggesting that eating dolphins may not be good for one’s health. The Japanese government said in 2005 that bottlenose dolphin meat contains 12 times more mercury than blue fin tuna — high levels of mercury in fish can cause health problems in pregnant women and young children.
A city councilman in Taiji, Junichiro Yamashita, grew so concerned about mercury levels that he persuaded locals schools to stop serving dolphin meat at lunch. He even plucked some of his hair, sent it off for testing and discovered that it contained seven times as much mercury as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe.”
Additionally, Environment News Service reported in 2005 of a study on dolphin meat which found “19.2 parts per million (ppm) of mercury, 48 times higher than the maximum advisory level of 0.4 ppm set by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry of Japan.” Since dolphins are top predators in the ocean, they sequester all the pollutants in their tissue from the chain of organisms leading up to its prey. This is referred to as bioaccumulation and includes mercury as well as organic pollutants and heavy metals.
What it breaks down to are your traditions more important than your health? If so, if you have children or are nursing a baby, is it more important than your their health and development? Traditions aren’t the easiest thing to break and they can bind together a community in unseen ways. But sometimes traditions can lead to devastating results. I ask the people of Japan to boycott and outlaw the sale of dolphin meat, if only as a health risk to those villagers – without regard to any other ethical reasons. Maybe its the father-of-two in me, but I only want to see healthy babies and children, as well healthy and happy adults.