This article was first published in The Viking News, March 31, 2004, a bi-weekly publication of the State University of New York, Westchester Community College.
Did you know retail giant Wal-Mart is also in the business of selling endangered whale meat? A Wal-Mart-owned Japanese-based supermarket, Seiyu, Ltd., offers the meat of whales hunted in violation of the International Whaling Commission under the self-appointed guise of "scientific whaling." Scientific whaling, which reports on the stomach and fecal contents of hundreds of the same species of whales (in the same waters, year after year,) is considered by non-whaling nations a ruse to market whale meat for purchase. Japanese whaling fleets still kill hundreds of dolphins and whales annually. Whales and dolphins (cetaceans), at the top of the food chain, accumulate high amounts of environmental toxins, such as mercury and PCB's, in their flesh and blubber. Mercury levels in Japanese whale meat are 5 times greater than those considered safe for human consumption. Methyl mercury levels in cetacean meat are 4 times their acceptable levels. Japanese officials have recommended that pregnant women and children avoid eating whale meat yet still permit this highly toxic product, the object of ongoing international protest, on its supermarket shelves. Seiyu is a major distributor of whale products and thus is instrumental in the ongoing illegal whaling and drive fishery slaughter.
DNA samples from supermarket-purchased whale meat in Japan has proven that besides those killed in the bogus "scientific whaling" expeditions, endangered species of whales as well as dolphins (mislabeled and sold as whale meat) are being sold to the public, regardless of the levels of contaminants, or their near-extinction status.
On the shelves of Wal-Mart's book section one finds books on the illegal trade in whale products and the struggle to stop commercial whaling in Japan. Yet the world's largest retailer has done nothing to stop the sale of whale meat in its Japanese stores.
Some of the whale meat offered in Japanese markets originates from the drive fisheries, where two or more vessels drop huge nets into the sea while hammering on metal bars underwater to acoustically stun dolphins nearby. The fleets guide the nets and "drive" hundreds of dolphins in to shallow bays where they are trapped, forced ashore and slaughtered. Because the aquarium industry can easily purchase young, unblemished dolphins for the growing world-wide "swim with" or dolphin-assisted-therapy (DAT) programs, the aquarium industry, such as Anheuser Busch's Sea World, heavily subsidizes the Japanese drive fishery slaughter. Ironically, drive fishery dolphins end up in swim-with-the-dolphin or dolphin-therapy pools, which brings in hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Predictably, the industry does nothing to inform its public of these drive fishery slaughters, or how the dolphins arrive in their water-circus tanks. When asked, the usual response is, they were transferred from another aquarium.
Although the aquarium industry even claims its captive dolphins are born in captivity, the fact remains that every seven years, 50% of all dolphins in aquarium facilities, worldwide, die of stress or other chlorinated habitat-related disease. Dolphin deaths in captivity far outpace captivity births; the stresses of life in captivity and an artificial sterile environment contribute to a high failure rate in births. To replace the dying dolphins, proprietors turn to the drive fishery. The industry pays 300,000 yen for one dolphin, more than enough to entice the Japanese industry to continue the horrific slaughter practice.
Drive fishery slaughters were halted in the early 1990's when a team of activists filmed the event and broadcast it live over networks around the world. People heard the chilling screams of the world's most eerily intelligent marine mammal as the blood of their hundreds stained the hands and beaches of their butchers. Finally exposed, international outrage shut down the drive fisheries and the killing stopped. Enter Sea World, looking to replace the dolphins dying prematurely in their small chlorinated tanks. Disgust and shame notwithstanding, in 1999, the drive fishery was lured back into business, more for the scamming dolphin-assisted-therapy programs than for the toxin-laden blubber that is packaged as "whale meat." Make no mistake, DAT and the dolphin swim-with-programs are a hundred-million dollar industry using primarily wild-captured and drive-fishery dolphins.
Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT) programs lure those hoping for some "New Age" cure by claiming that dolphins can miraculously heal disease, mental illness or childhood autism. People spend thousands of dollars per week, even mortgaging their homes, seeking that relief. But despite industry claims to the contrary, there is no evidence, no peer-reviewed scientific studies proving that DAT provides any more comfort or relief for an illness than a hot bath, or quality play-time with the pet dog. On the contrary, in fact, during human-dolphin interaction, the powerful animals have caused severe injury to their patients, including broken bones from being slammed by powerful bodies and deep cuts and lacerations from razor sharp teeth. The injury statistics and volume of legal actions are well-hidden by the industry promoting the captive misery of these highly intelligent creatures and the genetic contour of the dolphin "smile" as an eagerness to please and help their human captors. Justifying their confinement for these modern snake-oil cures, the industry cries, "They are rescued from the slaughter," but in reality, if the industry wasn't on hand to pay the drive fisheries for unblemished young dolphins the barbaric drive fishery would in all likelihood be closed for business.
Some trainers in the aquarium industry have said that the only way to train this species is to starve them into submission. One trainer said, "If they [the dolphins] choose to perform their tricks, they will eat, i.e., they will survive." Their cooperation cannot, however, always be guaranteed. But no matter, there are many drive fishery or wild dolphins where they came from. The show, after all, must, and will, go on.
Refusing to participate in the lucrative dolphin-assisted-therapy scam or swim-with-the-dolphin programs is the best way to help shut down the drive fisheries, and even help those wild dolphins being rounded up around the world just to keep these facilities supplied.
Bowing to international exposure and intense protest, at least one other Japanese supermarket chain has agreed to phase out whale meat from its stores. Will Wal-Mart do the right thing? Kind of makes you want to shop somewhere else.
Sign a petition to tell Wal-Mart to get out of the whaling business at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/991643794
The New York Whale and Dolphin Action
PO Box 273, Yonkers, NY 10707 USA
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A Project of Cetacean Society International
URL for this page: http://ny4whales.org/wcc_walmart.html