Mercury in Oceans A ‘Ghastly Crisis’
Chemical poisoning of the world’s oceans is “coming back to bite us in the butt,” a leading conservationist warned Friday, with evidence showing that mercury in dolphins and other marine life in the food chain is raising contamination in humans to as much as 80 times the safe level.
Hardy Jones, executive director of BlueVoice, an ocean conservation organization he co-founded with actor Ted Danson, told guests at the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists in Miami that the “ghastly crisis” of ocean mercury poses an increasingly critical threat to human – as well as environmental – health.
Joined at the conference by Ric O’Barry, the captive dolphin industry’s leading nemesis, Jones urged greater attention to the intertwined fates of mankind and the oceans that it is devastating.
“Pollution of the oceans is getting substantially worse … it’s accelerating,” said Jones, citing scientific studies on the resulting effects, such as immuno-suppression in dolphins, carcinomas in fish, and toxoplasmosis in otters, and speaking of his own health struggles with mercury poisoning and multiple myeloma. He attributes both ailments to his former habit of eating tuna and swordfish, species now known to be most prone to high levels of mercury contamination, three times a week.
“I thought, ‘What could be healthier?’ Well, a lot of things could be healthier. … There’s an example of what we are doing to the ocean coming back to bite us in the butt,” Jones said.
The pollution issue is also being used as a powerful weapon in O’Barry’s campaign to end dolphin slaughter. Once famous for his work training the five dolphins that performed the role of television’s Flipper in the 1960s, he has spent the last 31 years campaigning against the very industry that he helped to found.
The Cove, an undercover documentary in which he was involved last year, revealed for the first time the horrors of the annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan — which also yields live dolphins that are sold to aquariums and dolphinariums worldwide. The film won his campaign greater public momentum – and a Guinness World Record for the most film festival awards ever earned by a single documentary.
In tandem with his aim of shutting down venues that exhibit performing dolphins, he is targeting Japan’s dolphin meat industry with evidence that pollutants from eating their meat are devastating human health. Tests on residents of Taiji, for whom dolphin meat is a staple, have shown mercury levels up to 80 parts per million. The “safe” level is considered to be one part per million.
Mercury contamination, which stems from big industry, is “not just a Japanese problem – it’s a worldwide problem.”
“It’s in the Everglades. Every stream, every river, every canal, every lake in America is contaminated with mercury. That’s absolutely shocking,” he said.
Widening his call for the shutdown of the captive dolphin industry, meanwhile, O’Barry rejected assertions that aquariums that keep dolphins in the name of “research” as a sham and branded it an “industry of hypocrites.”
“Everybody uses those words ‘education’ and ‘research’ and ‘conservation.’ I mean, contemplating your navel can be ‘research’ if you want it to be. Research can be done in the wild,” he said.
“There is no connection between captive dolphins and conservation. These people in these places can find other jobs. I did it. I was the highest paid dolphin trainer in the world before, and I still make a living.
“They will tell you: ‘We are doing this to educate the public. We can only protect what we know.’ Well, Japan has 127 million people and most of them have been through the aquariums …. yet [in Japan] we have the largest slaughter on the planet going on in a country where we have 50 dolphinariums. So obviously there’s no connection.”
He added: “I’m more upset with the dolphin trainers than I am the fishermen [who catch them]. In some ways the fishermen know not what they do … the dolphin trainers know, they have looked them in the eye, they feed them … they are hypocrites and, if they policed their own industry, the slaughter would probably stop.”