Horror find in online meat purchase prompts call for ban

High mercury levels in dolphin meat bought from a Japanese website have prompted a campaign to warn consumers.

Testing of dolphin meat bought from a website in Japan has found it contains mercury levels 265 times the country’s regulatory limit, leading to a call for warning labels to be attached and for it to be withdrawn from sale.

The results come after the nation resumed dolphin hunting in September, from a large-scale ocean-based operation in the city of Taiji, south of Osaka.

The dolphin meat was bought online from a company in Taiji by conservation group Action for Dolphins (AFD) and tested in a Japanese lab. The highest levels were found in offal cut from Risso’s dolphins, and while meat in melon-headed whales appeared less toxic, the mercury was still high at 16 times the allowable amount.

Two images of the whale meat purchased by ADF for testing.
Melon-headed whale meat (left) and Risso's dolphin offal (right) were found to have high levels of mercury. Source: AFD

AFD has tested several samples of meat dating back to 2020, and it has reported the results have continued to show increased amounts of mercury.

“These are the highest mercury results we have ever seen. Especially if consumed frequently, this meat poses a serious threat to human health and should be removed from sale,” its Australian-based CEO Hannah Tait said.

Call to remove dolphin meat from sale

AFD’s attempts to get Japanese authorities to take action against sellers has stalled, so it has focused its efforts towards informing consumers about the danger of eating dolphin meat.

An aerial shot of boats surrounding a pod of dolphins in Taiji.
In Taiji, hunters have once again been capturing dolphins and butchering them. Source: Robert Gilhooly

Japan is one of a handful of nations that continues to allow the butchering of wild dolphins and whales for their meat. Another is the Faroe Islands, but its authorities take a more risk-averse approach, advising that children and women who may one day fall pregnant should not eat the meat. They also warn against eating large amounts.

“In Japan, anyone can buy it online but there are no health warnings on the meat that there are such unbelievably high levels of mercury,” Tait told Yahoo News Australia.

“We’d like to see it removed from sale because it’s been consistently shown to have high levels of mercury.”

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