By Ric O’Barry
Over the past few weeks, Brian Barnes and our colleagues in Japan have been visiting various coastal towns in Japan – the notorious Taiji, home of drive hunts for dolphins; Otsuchi on the northern coast, once a center for Dall’s porpoise harpoon boats but now devastated by the March earthquake and tsunami; and finally the port of Kushiro on the island of Hokkaido, where Japan’s so-called “scientific” spring hunt for minke whales and other species in the north Pacific is taking place.
In addition to talking to local people and investigating the status of these towns and the dolphin and whale hunts, Brian and friends have also been searching local markets for dolphin and whale meat to sample.
Why the samples? As you know, one of the dangers from the tsunami has been extreme damage to the nuclear power plants at Fukushima. The tsunami knocked out the power and the coolant pumps that kept the nuclear fuel from overheating, causing some serious damage and partial meltdowns of the nuclear reactors. The result has been some serious discharges of radiation from the plants, into the air and into the ocean.
Whales and dolphins live in the ocean, and it is likely that radiation, which can bio-accumulate just as mercury and PCB’s do, will show up in whale and dolphin meat in markets. Just as likely, whales and dolphins breathe the same air carrying radiation from the nuclear disaster out over the ocean.
Brian and friends searched a great many markets, but were unable to come up with any samples of dolphin meat — since the hunts have ended by and large, little dolphin meat is likely on the market, although Brian was hopeful he could find some pilot whale meat when he came upon pods being butchered in the Cove in Taiji, due to the extension of the season for that species.
But Brian was able to send out one of our Japanese friends to check the markets in Kushiro, where an abundance of fresh minke whale meat was present from the new spring hunts. She had walked around a bit of the town of Kushiro the evening they arrived. Kushiro is really a whaling town — you can tell by the restaurant signs. It was not difficult to find restaurants serving whale meat. It was everywhere on every street. She saw some menus and found they served every kind of whale dish. And you can find frozen whale bacon in almost every shop. So much for Japan’s “science”!
In the morning, she went to the market that is the biggest fish market in Kushiro, and bought minke meat to check. There were two shops selling raw whale meat.
The shop people said the minke whale had been caught the day before, so it was fresh and they recommended eating it raw (“sashimi”).
Minke whale meat is not cheap at all, by the way. A piece 100g is 480yen to 800yen. The price is the same as expensive meat, such as Kobe beef.
The minke whale meat was checked with our digital Geiger counter – it registered just barely higher than background radiation. We may be able to get some further tests done by Japanese labs to determine if the meat is indeed higher in radiation than background levels, and to check for mercury, PCB’s, and heavy metals. As these minke whales live near the coast of Japan, they have higher loads of pollutants and poisons than do minke whales in the Antarctic.
Our concerns are shared internally in Japan: A Sankei newspaper article on May 24th stated that the Japanese Fisheries Agency tested minke whale meat which was caught on 15th of May, and 31 bq Cesium (per kg.) were measured from whale meat. The Agency claims that this level is much lower level than 500 bq limit set by the Japan Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. The meat had already been sold on the market. Two other whales sampled showed no radioactivity.
Needless to say, we are skeptical of any claims by the Japan Fisheries Agency that already ignores the dangers of mercury contamination to consumers!
On another subject, we are pleased that The Cove DVD is out for sale and rental in the big DVD stores in Japan. Despite the problems of the earthquake and tsunami, it is clear that our campaign to end dolphin hunts in Japan will continue in the future, and that we will have many ways to get the truth out to the people of Japan in the coming weeks and months.
Thank you for your support for our efforts! If you would like to give a donation to support our Campaign in Japan, we would appreciate it!