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article imageUnable to sell whale meat Japanese agency resorts to brawn

By Elizabeth Batt     Jun 2, 2013 in Environment
Tokyo - With around 5,000 tonnes of whale meat sitting unwanted in freezers around Japan, the country's leading cetacean research organization is about to launch a campaign pushing its health benefits.
Concerned over flagging whale meat sales, Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) is embarking on a new campaign to tout the benefits of its consumption says ABC News Australia.
According to the news station, the ICR plans to focus on a specific ingredient called balenine (or ophidine), a dipeptide found in the muscles of several species of mammal (including man), and chicken.
ABC explained that the ICR is pushing balenine as a "nutritious food that enhances physical strength and reduces fatigue," in the hopes that it will appeal to younger generations of Japanese who are increasingly turning away from whale meat consumption.
Balenine, or beta-alanyl-N tau-methyl histidine, is nothing new however. Balenine is one of three dipeptides included in Beta-alanine (carnosine, anserine and balenine), and has been touted as a performance enhancer for athletes for quite some time.
But is the health gain also worth the risk of imbibing toxic pollutants?
According to Blue Voice. org, in 2003, the Asahi Shimbun (Japan’s second most widely circulated newspaper) reported that studies conducted on several species of whale by the Japanese health ministry, "revealed that many samples contained unacceptable levels of toxic chemicals, such as PCBs and methyl mercury."
Furthermore, added Blue Voice:
The samples tested were taken from fat and muscle meat from five Beard’s beaked whales taken off Northern Japan. The ministry’s research group detected PCB levels between 5 and 11 ppm and methyl mercury levels between 0.37 and 1.3 ppm in the whales muscles. The Health ministry limit is 0.5 for PCBs and 0.3 for methyl mercury in sea food.
The findings -- also discussed in 'this 2003 article, published at ScienceDirect.com, have of course been disputed.
The ICR argues that because the majority of its whaling is conducted in Antarctica's Southern Ocean, the whales that they kill are, "a great distance away from contamination sources," in an area "known for its low level of pollutants in the environment."
Yet many conservation groups believe that because of the amount of human-made pollutants entering the world’s oceans, no area can possibly remain untouched. Author Jon Bowermaster for example, a six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council and an active researcher on the state of the world's oceans, agrees.
Bowmaster describes at Living Green Mag.com, just how attractive the Southern Ocean is:
Its waters are becoming more tempting to fishing fleets willing to travel further and further from home.
It is for this reason, Bowmaster argues, that Antartica's fragile ecosystem is being threatened by these fishing fleets and why, "various pollutions—air, water, plastic—are slowly evidencing themselves in what has long been the most pristine place on the planet."
While the irony of this correlation is not lost on most, the ICR is planning to distribute around 7,000 brochures complete with whale recipes. And according to Japanese media, ABC said, the campaign will also involve, "selling whale meat to defence forces to help boost their strength."
More about Whaling, toxicity of whale meat, japan's institute for cetacean research, Antiwhaling
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