By: Kelcie Pegher
Questions About Dolphin Hunting
Why Do People Hunt Dolphins?
Photos of the Dolphin Hunt
It's a fact: dolphin meat contains high levels of methylmercury. However, not all scientists agree on a simple question: is it safe to eat dolphin meat? Why Is There Mercury in Dolphin Meat?
International studies have found high levels of mercury in dolphins. This is because dolphins are at the top of the food chain. It's like this: dolphins eat large fish, which in turn eat small fish, which feed on zooplankton, which graze on algae. Algae absorb small amounts of mercury from the aquatic environment. A single zooplankton will ingest large amounts of algae; as a result, it will contain a larger percentage of mercury than each individual algae it eats. As one goes further up the food chain, mercury levels become more and more amplified. In addition, animals higher up the food chain tend to have higher life spans. So what started as trace amounts of mercury can add up over the 18-to-50 year life span of a dolphin. Where does the mercury come from? Mercury is released naturally from the ground, but the World Health Organization reports that 70 percent of mercury released in the past 100 years has been manmade, primarily from the burning of wastes containing inorganic mercury and from the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal. Who Eats Dolphin Meat?
Small towns that still practice dolphin hunting do so in large part for the meat, which is often consumed raw. The Japanese coastal town of Taiji, the Faroe Islands and the Solomon Islands are three areas where dolphin hunting is still legal and regularly practiced. In Taiji, the locals are regularly tested for mercury poisoning — with varied results. Outside of Taiji, the average parts per million of mercury (ppm) found in Japan's male population is 2.55, and 1.43 for Japanese females. Tetsuya Endo, a professor at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, tested hair samples of Taiji residents between December 2007 and July 2008. He found that Taiji males had an average ppm of 21.6 while Taiji females had 11.9.The recommended amount from the FDA is 1 ppm. Is Mercury Really That Bad?
The people of Japan take mercury poisoning very seriously due to an incident which affected thousands of lives. In the town of Minamata, a chemical factory released methylmercury in their wastewater for more than 35 years. The chemical accumulated in the fish and shellfish of Minamata Bay and the nearby Shiranui Sea, where the local populace harvested much of their food. In time, methylmercury infiltrated their nervous systems. The residents had increased difficulty walking and speaking. In extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, comas and death followed. This neurological illness is now called "Minamata disease." Taiji: Safe and Healthy?
The National Institute of Minamata Disaease (NIMD) recently tested mercury levels in Taiji using hair samples and found similar numbers to Endo's. However, the NIMD declared the residents healthy and safe on May 9, 2010 at a press conference in Taiji.
NIMD has received criticism for this statement from other doctors studying mercury poisoning, including Pál Weihe, chief physician in the Department of Occupational Medicine, Public Health in the Faroe Islands. Mercury and Memory
Pál Weihe has been testing the effects of consuming pilot whale meat on children in the Faroe Islands...