Poison saves hunted whales


By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent

9 January 2000

The whale may finally be saved from hunters - through being poisoned. Contamination from the pollution of the world's seas appears to be succeeding where environmentalists had failed. The people of Japan, the world's main whaling nation, are at last questioning the hunting of the leviathans after a major food scare.

After high levels of dangerous heavy metals and chemicals were found in whalemeat, Japanese scientists advised against eating it, so sales slumped. Now, Japanese retailers - including one 300-branch supermarket chain - have started removing all whalemeat from their shelves after the scientists recommended an "immediate ban on the sale of all contaminated products".

Research has shown that toxic chemicals can build up in whales and dolphins to 70,000 times the levels found in the waters in which they swim and feed, and can cause serious human health problems, including damage to the immune system, sterility, and "gender-bender" hormone disruptions.

The development has is an extraordinary twist to one of the oldest and most bitter environmental battles. Conservationists have been campaigning to stop whaling for more than 30 years, after unrestrained hunting brought many species, such as blue fin and humpback, to the verge of extinction.

Nearly 20 years ago, the environmentalists succeeded - in one of their first great international victories - in persuading the body that regulates world whaling, the International Whaling Commission, to impose an indefinite moratorium.

But, ever since, Japan has exploited a loophole, which allows whaling for "scientific purposes", to enable it to continue its annual hunt and provide whalemeat for its people.

Meanwhile, it has been gradually winning the argument for a resumption of commercial whaling as the species it hunts - the minke whale - is abundant and would be in no danger of being seriously depleted. It has also used financial aid to persuade developing countries to join the whaling commission and support it.

The discovery of the contamination of whalemeat, however, threatens to undermine its campaign. Last year, two Japanese toxicologists and two geneticists from Harvard University analysed more than 100 samples of the meat bought in restaurants, shops and markets across Japan - in a study co-ordinated by the British-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and the Swiss Coalition for the Protection of Whales.

They were astonished at the results. About half of all the samples proved to be contaminated with heavy metals or dangerous chemicals - including mercury, dioxins, DDT and PCBs - above the maximum levels allowed for human consumption under Japanese and international standards.

They also found that a quarter of the samples were sold under false pretences, in fact containing meat from other species such as dolphins and porpoises - and, in one case in 20, from fully protected species such as humpback and sperm whales. More than three-quarters of these mis-advertised products proved to be for human consumption.

Japan's Fisheries Agency insisted then that whalemeat sold to consumers was not seriously contaminated. But in November, a separate study by the country's official Environment Agency confirmed that whales and dolphins were highly polluted.

Further research suggested, in the words of one scientist, that eating just three ounces of dolphin meat or one ounce of liver "would cause significant health problems".

Meanwhile, a seven-year study of children in the Faroe Islands has found that those whose mothers had eaten contaminated whalemeat during pregnancy were much more likely to suffer brain and heart damage.

A coalition of citizens' groups was formed last month to press the Japanese government to take immediate action. The fishing industry is deeply worried that the outrage will cause more cancellations of orders and drive down the price of meat from the whales caught by "scientific" whaling, dealing a devastating blow to the industry.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam