Health

Activists Say Whale Burgers Have a Special Sauce of Poisonous Mercury

DiscoblogBy Joseph CalamiaAug 30, 2010 3:50 PM

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Anti-whaling activists are trying a different tack: Rather than focusing on the ethical problems with hunting and eating majestic and often endangered whales, they're declaring that whale meat could be harmful to your health. Several groups want the World Health Organization to set guidelines for whale consumption, given the meat's mercury content. Though the World Health Organization does not currently have guidelines for the amount of whale meat someone should eat, it does list mercury as a chemical of public health concern, the BBC reports. Activist groups, including the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, argue that although fish may contain trace levels of mercury, the animals that consume those fish accrue much higher levels--and whales and dolphins, at the top of the food chain, could have dangerously high levels. Questioning whale meat's mercury content is not new, but many whaling nations argue that they already have their own consumption recommendations. But whether those recommendations are protecting citizens seems uncertain: In 2007, Japanese officials found that the amount of mercury in whale meat used in one whaling town's school lunches greatly exceeded advised levels, and this spring researchers detected high mercury levels when they tested residents of another Japanese whaling town. Activists argue that curbing whale meat consumption might help protect the smaller species of whales and dolphins not covered by the International Whaling Commission ban. Unsurprisingly, whale-eating nations such as the Faroe Islands aren't thrilled with the activists' suggestion. Kate Sanderson, of Faroes' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the BBC that the nation's guidelines already recommend only one or two whale meals a month, and that completely forgoing whale meat would prove an economic burden:

"If we don't have the whale meat and the blubber, what do we eat instead? ... The sheep population is certainly not enough to serve the meat needs.... Pilot whales represent not only the traditional part of the diet that people value very much, but also something that's free. It doesn't have to be paid for as an import."

Related content: Discoblog: Say What? Japanese Whaling Ships Accuse Animal Planet of Ecoterrorism Discoblog: Japanese Whaling Redux: American Scientists Say Slaughter Was Unnecessary Discoblog: After 4,500 Whale Killings, Japanese Publish Their Research Discoblog: Vladimir Putin Conducts Whale Research via Crossbow

Image: flickr / gromgull

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