Much attention has been placed on the dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan, which are especially brutal and are subsidized, as the International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) of Earth Island Institute revealed to the world in 2005, by the global captivity industry.
But an even larger hunt for dolphins (at least up until recent years) takes place in northern Japan, targeting the Dall’s porpoise by harpoon.
The Dall’s porpoise is a marvelous small porpoise, one of the fastest swimmers in the world, having been clocked at 34.5 miles per hour, and colored like a small orca with brilliant black and white skin. We’ve often seen them off the San Francisco coast, as they are a cold-water porpoise that loves to swoop in on a moving boat and ride the bow waves, then streak off to continue their own journey.
Japan’s Dall’s porpoise hunt has been notorious for years, killing thousands of dolphins each season for sale as meat in markets in northern Japan. Some winds up deliberately mislabeled as “whale” meat.
The dark secret, as the Environmental Investigation Agency has revealed through testing of the Dall’s meat, is that, like the dolphins of Taiji, the meat is highly poisoned by mercury and PCBs. It should not be eaten by anyone, but Japanese law exempts seafood from any mercury limits for health reasons, and health authorities cannot speak out against it without risking losing their jobs from the vindictive government.
As many as 15,000 Dall’s porpoises were being killed each year in northern Japan, but the number started dropping slowly in 2006. Environmental groups working in Japan and publicizing the dolphin hunts and the mercury contamination may have had some impact, but it is also likely that the porpoise population, being hammered for years, began to drop. The Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission has repeatedly expressed concerns that the huge number of porpoises being killed could not be sustained. But the Japan government has ignored all such complaints, continuing to issue very high quotas.
A major setback to the hunts occurred in March 2011, when the combined earthquake and tsunami off northern Japan destroyed the harbors and sank many of the fishing boats involved in the harpoon hunts. While the Japanese government continues to issue outrageous quotas of 11,800 Dall’s porpoises annually and to encourage a return of the hunts, the actual kill for the past few years has hovered around 1,000 annually.
IMMP is leading the effort to convince the Japan government to end the hunts of whales and dolphins permanently in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when the world will be focused on Japan, and the country will likely lose face if the slaughter continues.
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Dall Porpoise photo courtesy US National Marine Fisheries Service.
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