Contaminated whale meat
Toxic menu on the dinner plate
Populations regularly consuming whale and dolphin meat have a higher incidence of memory disorders, Parkinson’s disease and immunodeficiency. These are results of the report ‘Toxic Menu’ prepared by OceanCare and Pro Wildlife for the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 2009. The report is no less valid today. In addition to condemning whaling for animal welfare and species conservation reasons, it is also no longer tolerable from a food safety point of view.
Whale products show mercury, PCB or DDT levels exceeding the thresholds of safe consumption up to 5000 times. ‘Toxic Menu’ for the first time provided an overview about the concentrations of toxic pollutants. The results: From the Arctic to the Antarctic, contaminant levels in whales and dolphins are so high that their meat is unsuitable for human consumption. Accordingly, killing these animals does not make sense.
Dolphins and whales are at the top of the food chains and accumulate large amounts of toxins over their long lives. A particularly dangerous substance is the methylated form of mercury, which can cause severe impairments of the brain and the nervous system. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichlorethane) negatively impact on reproduction and immune response and have a recognised potential to cause cancer.
There is a long list of health disorders connected to contaminated cetacean meat: premature birth, reduced birth weight, neurological damage and respiratory diseases in children, immunodeficiency, kidney diseases, Parkinson’s disease, arteriosclerosis, and high blood pressure in adults. Inuit in Canada, Alaska and Greenland are particularly affected, but also parts of the populations of Japan and the Danish Faroe Islands.
Whaling despite knowing better
As shown by a study commissioned by the Danish Environment Ministry, indigenous populations do not necessarily depend on cetacean meat. For example, the Inuit of Greenland could use caribous, hares or a range of fish species as healthier alternatives. Nonetheless, the semi-autonomous government of Greenland plays down the health risks and recommends whale meat consumption for cultural reasons. The Canadian authorities argue similarly, despite knowing that belugas and narwhals are highly contaminated with toxic substances.
The Faroese health administration has recommended against the consumption of pilot whale meat in 2008. However, the killing of hundreds of pilot whales every year continues, and the warnings go unheard.
Other whaling nations completely fail to issue health warnings. For example, Japan denies any contaminant load of cetacean meat – a stance that is inconsistent with their own scientific results. Norway and Iceland, too, are regularly criticised during IWC meetings for not warning their consumers of the significant health risks.
OceanCare consistently advocates that the Whaling Commission (IWC), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) should draw up recommendations for action from the scientific results. Whaling nations should be obliged to inform consumers about the health risks associated with cetacean products.
Online database for the public
While governments and international bodies still do not live up to their responsibility, OceanCare and Pro Wildlife have made all relevant studies and papers on cetacean meat and contaminant load available to the public. At www.toxic-menu.org, consumers, politicians and scientists find important information on studies dealing with whale meat and the risks of consuming these products.