‘Toxic’ Dolphin Meat Is Being Sold and Eaten in Japan

A test showed a sample of dolphin offal contained mercury that’s nearly 100 times regulatory limits.
dolphin taiji hunting
Dolphins are hunted and consumed in a handful of places in the world, including Taiji in Japan and the Faroe Islands, despite objections from animal advocacy groups. Photo: Action for Dolphins

A Japanese company’s dolphin meat was found to contain levels of mercury nearly 100 times higher than legal limits.

The samples were a portion of offal from Risso’s dolphin, a cetacean commonly found in the waters off Taiji, a southern Japanese town famous for dolphin hunting.

The two samples of offal contained levels of mercury as much as 97.5 times and 80 times regulatory limits, which would be a violation of Japanese food laws, Australian conservation group Action for Dolphins said Tuesday.


Dolphins are hunted and consumed in a handful of places in the world, including Taiji in Japan, the Faroe Islands, and Peru, despite objections from animal advocacy groups, often on moral and health grounds.

Experts say such high levels of mercury, as found in the samples, could cause health problems if consumed regularly, such as damage to the kidneys and the liver. 

Being close to the top of the marine food chain, dolphins are known to contain high levels of mercury that they accumulate from all the fish and marine organisms they eat. The element can enter seas from natural sources such as volcano eruptions but also human activities such as coal burning

Action for Dolphins said it filed a complaint with Japanese police this month demanding that dolphin meat be pulled from the shelves, citing the mercury levels.

In its guidelines, Japan’s health ministry advises that fish and seafood with levels above 0.4 ppm for total mercury and 0.3 ppm for methylmercury are unsafe for human consumption.


Hannah Tait, head of Action for Dolphins, said in a statement that tests going back a decade have shown “potentially toxic levels” of mercury in whale and dolphin meat sold in the country.

The samples of dolphin meat were bought from Yahoo! Japan, a popular online retailer. The advocacy group has called on the company to stop selling dolphin and whale products, as Japan’s biggest e-commerce marketplace, Rakuten, did in 2014. In an email to the Guardian, Yahoo! Japan denied selling dolphin meat on its site, only whale meat.

Action for Dolphins, previously known as Australia for Dolphins, has for years campaigned against dolphin hunting in Taiji, the subject of the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary The Cove. The Japanese government has defended dolphin hunting as a tradition, although demand for dolphin meat has been declining and most people in Japan don’t eat it.

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