Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Broome: Taiji dolphin meat is ‘through the roof toxic’ says film maker

by Geoff Vivian

Photo: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Photo: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

A Broome resident says Taiji people look much bigger and healthier than most Japanese because they eat dolphins.

But film maker Louie Psihoyos says high mercury levels in Taiji dolphins are poisoning the people who eat them.

Anna Kaino, who spent two years visiting her father’s town of Taiji, said she was initially very much opposed to the locals’ slaughter of dolphins.

She said she had a change of heart when she realised the town had very little local industry.

“Not like what were used to, with the resource boom and the wide open spaces we have for raising cattle, hunting kangaroos etc,” she said.

Ms Kaino said she believed whaling and dolphin hunting were traditional practices in Taiji, although personally she did not like them.

“Japan’s oceans are fished out, and the town is doing what it has done for a lot of years,” she said.

“I can’t help understanding why this happens though, and feeling compassion for the townspeople whose income relies on the declining industry.”

“I also noticed the men of Taiji were of bigger stature in general compared to our stereotypical image of the Japanese,” she said.

“I imagined this was due to their extra nourishment received over generations from whale and dolphin and tuna meat.”

Film maker Louie Psihoyos told ABC radio the local fishermen were taking in toxic amounts of mercury by eating the dolphins.

Mr Psihoyos is one of the producers of a film called The Cove, which contains secretly shot scenes of the Taiji dolphin kill.

In a recording of dolphin fishermens’ conversation, he heard one man joking that he was going deaf and blind at forty.

“We started to realise that these guys were riddled with mercury poisoning,” he said.

“They are not only poisoning themselves, they are poisoning the people they are selling it to.”

He said the dolphin meat, which is being sold in Japan as whale meat, has mercury levels 5000 times more than what is allowed under Japanese law.

Ms Kaino disputes this figure.

“This mercury level poisoning is a spin off to increase hysteria about the dolphins,” she said.

“I know of Taiji residents who have done hair strand test and it resulted below normal.”

Photo: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Photo: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Mr Psihoyos also denied that the Taiji dolphin kill, whereby dolphins are herded into a small cove and slaughtered, was a traditional cultural practice.

“It’s only been since about 1933 that the Japanese have been using (this) method of capturing them,” he said.

“Before that they were just going out in small boats and they couldn’t get that many that fast and that organized.”

He said Taiji fisherman now slaughter 23,000 dolphins every year.

Opponents of the Taiji dolphin kill are circulating petitions urging Broome Shire to suspend sister-city relationships with the town of Taiji.

Ms Kaino said this would be a step backwards.

“Less dialogue between the towns hinders the learning curve between cultures and disintegrates both sides’ local heritage,” she said.

Almost all of the first wave of Japanese pearling industry workers came from Taiji, and many Broome people are, like Ms Kaino, descended from Taiji pearl divers.

The Cove will be shown again at Sun Pictures this Sunday evening.

You can listen to ABC radio national interview with Mr Psihoyos by clicking here.

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