Dr Pal Weihe, Chief Physician at the Department of Occupational Medicine and Public Health in the Faroe Islands, has just co-authored an alarming new study on the threat to human health caused by eating whale meat and blubber.
The article entitled, ‘Health effects associated with measured levels of contaminants in the Arctic’, was published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health on 13th December 2016. It reveals a catalogue of dangerous health problems linked with the toxic pollutants regularly consumed by people in the High Arctic and the Faroe Islands through eating marine mammals such as seals whales and dolphins. The full article can be read here
The new study reveals the high levels of toxic pollutants, such as mercury and PCBs
(polychlorinated biphenyls) that concentrate in marine mammals that are hunted for meat and blubber in the Faroe Islands and by native peoples in remote parts of Canada and Siberia.
Pilot whales – poisonous to men, women and children
Campaign Whale has been working with Faroese colleagues to end the ‘grind’ or pilot whale hunt as it is called in the Faroe Islands, situated midway between Scotland and Iceland. Dr.Weihe has studied the health impacts of eating pilot whale meat in over two thousand Faroese women and their children. His research concludes that the toxic contaminants, which concentrate in the whales’ meat and blubber, increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, hypertension, arteriosclerosis, diabetes and certain cancers. They can also harm cognitive development in children with permanent damage seen in later life. These contaminants are also linked with lower testosterone levels in men, along with a low sperm count.
On the harm to brain development Dr Weihe states ‘studies in the Faroe Islands have demonstrated that children exposed to MeHg (methyl-mercury) in utero (pregnancy) exhibit decreased motor function, attention span, verbal abilities, memory, and other mental functions. Follow-up of these children up to the age of 22 years indicates that these deficits, together with deficits in general mental ability, appear to be permanent.’
In 2011 the Faroese government issued health advice stating that adults should eat no more than one meal of pilot whale meat and blubber a month and that women wanting babies, and children, should avoid it altogether. However, Dr. Weihe has repeatedly contradicted this advice, warning that pilot whale meat and blubber should not be eaten at all. Dr. Weihe made his feelings clear when he said “pollution of the oceans will one day end up on the dinner table in some communities, and our children are paying the price.”
Sadly, hundreds of pilot whales are still driven ashore and slaughtered in the Faroes each year. The whalers drive entire whale pods ashore and use blunt-ended metal hooks, inserted into the whales’ blowholes, to drag the whales into the shallows and on to the beach where they are killed with lances or knives.
Whaling on the wane?
There is hope that the tide is turning. The Faroese government has banned the killing of dolphins and introduced measures to improve killing methods. Yet despite the frightening health warnings, the long stubborn tradition of pilot whaling continues. In July and August this year (2016) a total of 245 pilot whales were killed at Hvannasund, a small village in the far north of the Faroe Islands, that has a population of just 270 people. However, this number represents a quarter of the annual average kill of over 800 whales, and these hunts were openly criticised for being poorly conducted, and for inflicting considerable suffering on the whales – signs, perhaps, that attitudes are changing.
Campaign Whale believes that toxic pollution is a serious threat both to whales and the people that eat them. We are working closely with colleagues within the Faroes to end whaling as soon as possible.