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Orca by Miles Ritter 1 - Copy

13 July 2011


As the International Whaling Commission continues with its 63rd Annual meeting in the Channel Islands, Earthrace Conservation believes that ultimately, it will be the health risks of eating whales that will end the hunts that outrage the anti-whaling lobby, not the protests or physical confrontations that make the headlines.

A number of research projects into whales and dolphins, and into the health of people that eat meat from them, have consistently reported dangerous levels of toxic methyl mercury and increasingly, persistent organic pollutants, in the bodies of cetaceans, and offered proof of the risks to humans of consuming them.

Beverley Bailey from Earthrace Conservation said, “Protests and confrontations have certainly had an effect in bringing international awareness to the slaughter of cetaceans all over the world, with Sea Shepherd undoubtedly succeeding in shortening the hunting season for the Japanese in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary last year. However, ultimately, we believe that it is the toxicity of the whales and other marine mammals hunted for profit, and the associated health risks to those that eat them, that will end these hunts forever.”

Whilst the world now has a much greener agenda than it had decades ago, the damage has already been done by our careless personal and industrial dumping and disposal of damaging waste and chemicals. “It’s not just the whaling nations that are at fault, it’s all of us”, continued Beverley. “The oceans themselves are toxic almost anywhere you go, so it’s hardly surprising that whales, dolphins, sharks, rays, seals and other marine animals at the higher end of the food chain are so toxic too”.

Earthrace Conservation sent a small International team to the Faroe Islands last month to investigate how widespread knowledge of the health risks of eating pilot whale was amongst the population, and to talk to those involved in the grindadraps (dolphin drives) that annually see an average of around 1,000 pilot whales killed for their meat and blubber.

It was Dr Pal Weihe, Chief Physician from the Faroese Department of Occupational Medicine and Public Health, and a leading researcher into the effects of mercury on people that eat grind meat, who said as far back as 1998 that his own Government should ban consumption completely.

To date, this hasn’t happened although a recent advisory notice from Faroese Food and Veterinary Authority (June 2011) halved the original 1998 recommendations from 10kg per person per year to just 4kg with additional notices surrounding consumption by girls and women of child-bearing age, and children.

With the Government of the Faroe Islands refusing to take the advice of their own experts, people in the Faroe Islands are confused about what to believe. Many mothers that the team spoke to continued to eat pilot whale whilst saying ‘they would never feed it to their children’, other people said they had stopped eating it because of the health risks, and especially amongst the younger generation in the larger cities further way from where the grinds take place, there was increasing recognition both on health grounds and from an animal welfare perspective that it was time for the grinds to end.

Even some of the the hunters – many of whom maintain they are true conservationists and only participate in sustainable grindadraps – are beginning to acknowledge there is unacceptable wastage because consumption appears to be decreasing, with many instances of the previous year’s pilot whale meat being thrown out of freezers to be replaced by new stock.

As a result of this unwelcome excess, some hunters admitted to the Earthrace team that there was talk of being accepting of a formal quota that would reduce the numbers of pilot whales allowed to be killed each year. This would take into account the reduced recommendations for consumption and the decrease in the numbers of Faroese happy to go on eating pilot whale. Whilst it won’t happen overnight, it seems the dolphin drives might be grinding naturally to a halt.

Earthrace Conservation believes that whilst there is certainly a place for direct action, protests, petitions, and boycotts to continue until commercial whaling stops world-wide, it is without doubt time for those with the power to change things to step up and take responsibility for the health of their own nations.

“What we need now is for the Governments of all the whaling nations, and those that continue to allow the import of whales as food to their own countries, to wise up and start taking care of all their citizens not just the small minority directly involved in whaling. They can no longer ignore all the connected research results that are available and should openly warn their own populations about the risks, if not ban consumption altogether.

“We firmly believe that ultimately, even if the older die-hards carry on, the younger generations will stop eating whales, dolphins and other marine animals high up the food chain for the sake of their own health and that of their children. If no-one is eating them, there are no profits, and therefore no point in continuing commercial whaling, dolphin drives or any of the other mass slaughters that continue to take place around the world,” said Beverley.

Health risks not a natural fit for the Institute of Cetacean Research
Earthrace Conservation is also wondering whether the Institute of Cetacean Research, the organisation responsible for Japanese ‘research whaling’, will announce any research results during the IWC that have looked into the toxicity of whale meat.

“They have been ideally positioned to do this as their entire catch of whales since 1986 has purportedly been for research”, said Beverley. “However, oddly enough, to date, ‘the study of environmental effects such as chemical pollution on cetaceans’ is not one of their highest priorities.

“It’s only mentioned in passing as part of their current programme of killing whales in the North Pacific which they began again in June this year, and none of their published research so far has ever focused on the subject.

“Instead, their activities focus on population numbers, what whales eat, and where they travel to and from which is all quite useful stuff if you want to kill whales for profit. No wonder looking into the health risks of eating whales is not a natural fit for the Japanese hunts that masquerade as research”, concluded Beverley.

Mercury risks to humans
Dr Pal Weihe’s research (some with Syddansk Univeristy Denmark)
Précis of results shows that:
• Mercury from pilot whale meat adversely affects the fetal development of the nervous system; The mercury effect is still detectable during adolescence
• The mercury from the maternal diet affects the blood pressure of the children
• The contaminants of the blubber adversely affect the immune system so that the children react more poorly to immunizations
• Contaminants in pilot whales appear to increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease in those who often eat pilot whale
• The risk of hypertension and arteriosclerosis of the carotid arteries is increased in adults who have an increased exposure to mercury
• Septuagenarians with type 2 diabetes or impaired fasting glycemia tended to have higher past intake of traditional foods (such as pilot whale) during childhood and adolescence, and higher concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s).

Faroese Food and Veterinary Authority – 1 June 2011
Dietary recommendation on the consumption of pilot whale meat and blubber
In recent years, a number of studies have been conducted on contaminants in our food products and the implications their consumption have for human development and health. Expert groups under the auspices of various international bodies have assessed these studies and provided updated advice on the levels within which the intake of these substances through food is likely to be safe for human health. Recommendations have previously been related to mercury, but advice is now also available regarding dioxin and dioxin-like PCBs.

Based on this advice, the recommendations for the consumption of pilot whale meat and blubber are as follows:

• Adults should eat at most one meal of pilot whale meat and blubber per month.1

• Special recommendations for women and girls:
o Girls and women should refrain entirely from eating blubber as long as they are still planning to have children
o Women who are planning pregnancy within the next three months, who are pregnant or who are breastfeeding should refrain from eating whale meat

• The kidneys and liver of pilot whales should not be eaten.

1 One meal is calculated as an amount of 250 grams of meat and 50 grams of blubber (raw, unprocessed). Average human body weight 70 kg.

The Voyage of the Odyssey Report
Ocean Alliance undertook a five year, round the world research expedition during which scientists and crew collected biopsy samples and other data from almost 1,000 sperm whales globally.

The expedition collected the first-ever baseline data set on toxic contaminants throughout the world’s oceans by studying the sperm whale, a cosmopolitan whale species that sits at the top of the oceanic food chain.

Toxic Menu
Toxic Menu — Contamination of Whale Meat and Impact on Consumers’ Health. © 2009


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