Why Not to Eat Whale Meat

June 8, 2017
By whales BRONZE, Portola Valley, California
whales BRONZE, Portola Valley, California
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

You might believe that whaling should continue to keep whale meat as a food source, but the truth of the matter is that whale meat shouldn’t be consumed. In the 19th and 20th centuries, commercial whaling was a large market because whales produced many important materials, such as oils and meat. Unlike animal husbandry, people can’t farm whales, meaning commercial whaling decimated the populations of many whale species. Some people may not see this as a problem because whale meat is a traditional food source and it is similar in many ways to animal husbandry. However, most people in whaling countries such as Japan, Norway, and Iceland consider whale meat a delicacy rather than a staple food source. So why do people continue to murder whales in an attempt to profit from this market? We must take a stand to help save whale populations, the environment, and ourselves. How, you may ask? Read on, and you will learn why not to eat whale meat.

First of all, people shouldn’t consume whale meat because it can be bad for your health. The Environmental Investigation Agency, a non-governmental organization centered in the United Kingdom, published a study on the levels of mercury in various cetacean (whale and dolphin) meat products in Japan. The study found that 56% of the 341 Japanese whale and dolphin products had more than Japan’s legal limit of 0.4 parts per million (mg/L) of mercury. Astonishingly, 100% of the 20 products tested in 2015, the year the study was published, had above Japan’s limit of mercury. In fact, the average concentration of mercury in these 341 whale products was 1.7 ppm, which is more than 4 times the legal limit. This report is significant because it proves how much mercury Japanese whale meat, on average, contains. But how awful can mercury possibly be? According to Kaleigh Rogers, a science journalist for the multi-platform publication company Motherboard, “Studies have found eating foods with high mercury levels can impact fetal development, lowering a child's IQ, and can leave children more susceptible to infections. In adults, it's been linked to cardiovascular problems and even Parkinson's disease.” Also, according to the Global Healing Center, an organization dedicated to providing the public with important health information, acute exposure to mercury, especially in its vapor form, can cause hallucinations, psychotic reactions, and suicidal tendencies. Even if whale meat is considered a delicacy, nothing is worth consuming if it has so many long and short term health risks. However, mercury isn’t the only chemical endangering consumers of whale meat. According to the article “One More Reason the World Should Stop Eating Whale Meat: It’s Filled With Pesticides” by David Kirby, a professional journalist for the website branch of the film company that tries to compel social change called Participant Media, some Norwegian whale meat imported to Japan in 2015 had twice the permitted level of pesticides, including dieldrin (a pesticide commonly found near leaked storage containers or agricultural sites that can cause nervous system problems, kidney damage, headaches, dizziness, uncontrolled muscle movements, and, in extreme cases death) and chlordane (Chlordane is a man-made chemical used in farming and termite control, and can cause digestive, nervous, and liver problems. Headaches, irritation, confusion, nausea, and vision problems can also be caused by the pesticide. When purposefully ingested, it can cause death.) This is important to notice because even though these pesticides aren’t naturally occurring in whale meat like mercury, toxic pesticides are still present in a lot of whale meat. All in all, whale meat shouldn’t be consumed because of the mercury and pesticides it contains. You, the reader, should definitely care about this topic because we only get one body, and filling it with poisonous chemicals is a horrible waste.

Also, whale meat shouldn’t be consumed because killing whales has a large effect on the ocean ecosystem. According to Lee Dye, a science writer for ABC News, killer whales used to hunt great whales when their populations were larger. After great whale populations declined, killer whales started to hunt sea lions, seals, and sea otters. Sea lion populations alone have declined more than 80% in the last 30 years, and $100 million has been spent in conservation efforts. If people continue to kill whales for the consumer market, more populations of small marine animals will decline, having drastic effects on the oceanic food chain. Lee Dye wrote in his article “How Whale Hunting Changed the Ocean” that, “Harbor seal populations began collapsing in the early 1970s, and fur seals a bit later in the mid-'70s, and sea lions in the late' 70s, and sea otters in the '90s. Commercial whaling has been banned for years now, but some species have been slow to rebound, and the dietary preference of killer whales may have changed forever.” This conveys how if people halt the practice of eating whale meat, the whaling industry will collapse, the great whale population will rise, and many currently endangered aquatic species such as harbor seals, fur seals, sea lions, and sea otters will flourish. Not only does whaling effect the food chain, but it also is making a negative impact on the ocean’s carbon cycle. According to Leighton Walter Kille, a research editor of Harvard’s free reference website Journalist’s Resource, whales carry substantial amounts of carbon to the sea floor when they die, essentially removing unwanted carbon from the atmosphere. The strongest piece of evidence to support how whales affect the ecosystem is that a study conducted by the University of Maine, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, and the University of British Columbia found that if the population of baleen whales was restored to pre-exploration levels, 160,000 tons of carbon per year could be removed from the atmosphere. That is the equivalent of adding 2000 acres of forest to our planet! If people continue to consume whale meat, not only will they be endangering themselves, they will be letting climate change continue. People always tell others to switch to solar power or drive electric cars to save the environment, but not eating whale meat is a considerably easier solution with many benefits.

Finally, the most important reason for why you shouldn’t consume whale meat is that it hurts the whale population. According to Sea World, a family entertainment park and rehabilitation center, commercial whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries has caused 9 of the 11 baleen whale species are endangered, and this is after 100 years of recovery from the height of industrial whaling. This suggests how even though the height of whaling has passed, great whale populations are still wounded and will continue to lower unless commercial whaling collapses. According to the article “Why Are Whales Endangered” published by See the Wild, an organization dedicated to supporting non-profits and spreading awareness about conservation through trips and learning experiences, “In the Southern Ocean, despite being a whale sanctuary, some nations are still hunting there, killing more than 1,000 whales each year despite it being illegal.” The article refers to Japan, a whaling nation that engages in commercial whaling for “scientific research” and sells the meat later as a way to rid themselves of the corpse. This is the strongest piece of evidence to support how whaling is a very negative practice because it shows how even though whaling is illegal, many efforts have been made to keep whaling. Continuing to hunt whales by calling it scientific research in unacceptable, especially since according to a brochure given by the International Whaling Commission, whales are one of the most well-studied species on the planet. All in all, we should terminate consuming whale meat so whale populations will grow to pre-whaling sizes.

Despite the negative effects of whaling, many people continue to support it. For example, the brochure given to the media at 1994’s gathering of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) stated multiple times that whaling was no different than the animal husbandry industry. According to the brochure, “To make instantaneous death the criterion for the moral right to hunt and catch animals would render all kinds of fishing and most types of hunting impossible.” Simply put, this source is saying that whaling is the same as any other form of hunting, and therefore should be legal. However, this isn’t the case. Our most common food sources, such as beef, pork, chicken, and fish, are usually farmed to be killed and eaten. This means that since we have an ample supply of these food sources, eating them doesn’t endanger the populations of these animals. Whales, because of their size, can’t be farmed. So, unlike more staple foods, hunting whales puts the whole species in danger. Kristjan Loftsson, Iceland’s government delegation to the IWC, the conservation organization Greenpeace International that ending the whaling industry would be similar to cutting 15,000 jobs in the United States. However, since Iceland’s population is so small compared to the U.S., this would be equivalent to losing 15 jobs in Iceland. Only 15 jobs! This is important because it shows how despite what some people may think, ending the whaling industry wouldn’t cause much unemployment. If we stop eating whale meat, we may be robbing 15 people in Iceland of their jobs, but we will be saving people from mercury poisoning, pesticides, and climate change, and helping otter, seal, sea lion, and whale populations. All in all, some people may argue that whaling and animal husbandry have the same level of damage and that ending the whaling industry will cause unemployment, but this simply isn’t the case.

As you can see, whale meat shouldn’t be a food source. Being a relatively adventurous eater, I love trying new cuisines or weird ingredients. However, despite being a delicacy, eating whale meat has too many disadvantages to be continuing. Not only is it poisonous to eat, but it also has negative effects on the whale population and the environment. Many species of baleen whales are endangered, and if we don’t stop whaling now, they could be gone forever. By not eating whale meat, people will be saving a species, the levels of carbon in the atmosphere, many small aquatic mammals, and ourselves from the mercury and other toxins whale meat contains. Many problems can be solved with one simple solution. So, the question remains. Why is whale meat being eaten at all?

The author's comments:

I was inspired to write this piece because I feel that whaling is an important, often dismissed problem. More importantly, I think more people deserve to know the dangers and effects of consuming whale meat.

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