A recent shipment of whale meat from Norway to Japan has been rejected because it was found to contain harmful levels of pesticides, including aldrin, dieldrin and chlordane, which made the minke whale meat unsuitable for human consumption. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare conducted the tests, details of which can be found here. They recommended that the products, exported by Brødrene Astrup Andreassen A/S and Myklebust Hvalprodukter were returned.
The highlighted chemicals are thought to play a role in some birth defects, they have also been linked to neurological damage and some cancers. It is most likely that they entered the ocean as agricultural run-off which has found its way into the biostructure over time, since the chemicals have now been banned for use in pesticides because of their deadly side effects.
The Environmental Investigation Agency and the Animal Welfare Institute were behind the release of the damning documents that have brought Norway’s questionable whaling practices into the spotlight.
The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), founded in 1951, is a non-profit organisation which works hard to reduce animal suffering caused by human activity, while The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is a Washington DC-based Organisation which campaigns against a wide range of environmental crimes.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC)
It has been 32 years since commercial whale hunting was completely outlawed by the IWC, in a memorandum which took effect as of 1986. The treaty applies to all countries that are members of the IWC. Japan and Norway are members. However Norway lodged a formal objection to the ban on commercial whaling and resumed the practice in 1993. They now allocate their own whaling quotas, which are not approved by the IWC.
Norway particularly targets the Minke Whale, which is banned under The Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). While the species is not endangered it is thought that there is need to protect them from whaling, which has caused a huge decline in population numbers in recent years.
“There’s concern over whether the hunt is sustainable,” says Clare Perry, head of the EIA’s oceans campaign. Norway uses the non-endangered loophole to insist that the hunt is indeed sustainable, awarding itself an annual catch quota of over 1000 whales.
This recent shipment is not the first to have arrived from Norway raising concerns. Studies by the country’s own National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research has reported illegally high levels of organic contaminants, especially dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyl. These were uncovered in whale oil capsules manufactured for the domestic market.
Despite falling public support, and international outrage, the Norwegian government seems determined to boost sales of whale products, both domestically and internationally. They are subsidising research, and looking for new ways to market of new whale products. Meanwhile, the AWI and EIA are pushing for them to accept the international bans and stop hunting commercially hunting whales once and for all.
In 2014, Norwegian whalers killed a massive 736 Minke Whales, which is more than in any year since they defied the International treaty in 1993. 871 tonnes of whale meat were recorded. Sadly on 5th March 2015 it was announced by the Minister of Fisheries that self-allocated quota would remain unchanged this year, a move which has angered the WWF.
The government since 1992 has spent more than US $4.9 million on public information, public relations, and lobbying campaigns to garner support for its whaling and seal hunting industries, according to the report. In addition, government subsidies for the whaling industry have equalled almost half of the gross value of all whale meat landings made through the Rafisklaget, the Norwegian Fishermen’s Sales Organisation. – WWF on Whaling in Norway
During the 2008-09 season, the Japanese whaling industry needed US $12 million in taxpayer money just to break even. Overall, Japanese subsidies for whaling amount to US $164 million since 1988. – WWF on Whaling in Japan
The public appetite for whale meat is declining faster than ever, even in Japan which has traditionally been the most dominant global consumer.
“Japan has always been the main consumer of whale products,” says Perry.“It’s not fashionable at all. There’s an older generation in Japan that have a nostalgia about eating it, but it’s not in any way a staple diet,” she says.
As parodoxical as it sounds, the pesticides could be a line of defence for the whales. Perry reminds us that this is not something to be particularly happy about: “If we think it’s potentially dangerous for us to eat, you can imagine it’s not particularly healthy for a whale.”
Considering that Norway’s whale shipments have also been found to carry high levels of bacteria and mercury recently, it seems that the industry will continue to struggle.
What are your thoughts on Norway’s continued defiance against the The International Whaling Commission? Should they be allowed to commercially hunt Minke Whales?
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