Friday, February 22, 2008

Mercury contamination may save whales-- and 3 things you can do

Japan already knows about mercury poisoning: from 1932 to 1968, the organic compound methyl mercury was discharged into Minamata Bay by the Chisso Minamata factory. The first 40 victims were identified by 1956, but through indifference, corruption and outright deception, the discharge continued for another twelve years.

Forty years later, the pilot whales and dolphins slaughtered for food in the whaling town of Taiji are turning up with high levels of mercury-- and once again, public officials say the danger is overblown. Activists have resorted to passing out flyers to townspeople to let them know of the danger. Still, schools have stopped serving pilot whale meat for lunch. The NYTimes has an article about it here.

Most Japanese don't eat whale meat, but most residents of Taiji do-- and they cling proudly to the tradition of whaling. But the Times article points out a growing generational gap. Young people just aren't into whale and dolphin meat, and are more health-conscious. Whaling may eventually die out on its own.

Meanwhile, there's work to be done. You can take the following three actions to help protect whales.

  1. For two weeks the Greenpeace ship Esperanza chased a Japanese factory whaling ship across the Southern Ocean, preventing whaling and saving more than 100 whales. But when Greenpeace ran out of funds for fuel, whaling resumed. Now Greenpeace is asking people to contact the CEO of Canon Japan, who has shown concern over environmental issues, and ask him to speak out publicly against whaling. You can do that here:
  2. The NRDC has won another injunction against the U.S. Navy, prohibiting them from training with a low frequency sonar system that creates so much underwater noise that whales and other marine mammals are disoriented and damaged. The Navy has appealed every decision against them and plans to appeal this one. Meanwhile, every injunction wins another day for whales. You can become a member to help them keep up the fight.
  3. Twenty-seven North Atlantic Right Whales were hit and killed by ships along the Atlantic seaboard from 2001 - 2005; fewer than 350 remain. A year ago, the National Marine Fisheries Service approved a policy reuquiring ships passing through whale territory to slow down to 10 knots, a speed that allows whales and ships to avoid each othyer. But the shipping industry's influence over White House environmental policies has prevented the rule from being implemented. You can email Congress to support the Ship Strike Reduction Act, which would force the Commerce Department to set firm rule at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Photo by Michael Dawes

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