Ministry snubs meeting with foes of dolphin kill

by Eric Prideaux

U.S. activists waging a high-profile campaign against Japan’s annual dolphin slaughter and sale of mercury-tainted dolphin meat were snubbed by government officials Friday in Tokyo when they tried to hand over a petition of protest they claim bears 50,000 signatures.

Members of Washington state-based antiwhaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society — including well-known Hollywood actress and board member Persia White — said they had planned to hand over the petition at a scheduled meeting at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s food safety department, but police and guards barred their entry.

“We flew over 5,000 miles to be stood up,” said White, who stars in the sitcom “Girlfriends.” The activists also tried to meet with the Fisheries Agency but were met with rejection there, the group said.

Sea Shepherd, whose ranks frequently clash with Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean, and government officials conflict on whether any appointment had been set.

Sea Shepherd liaison Allison Lance-Watson, who has been distributing leaflets across Tokyo since mid-September condemning the dolphin slaughter, said food safety official Tamotsu Imanishi clearly agreed in a phone conversation Tuesday to meet with members of her group at 2 p.m. at the ministry’s offices. Lance-Watson does not speak Japanese, but she said Imanishi spoke enough English to understand her.

Wakao Akimoto, an official at Imanishi’s office, acknowledged there had a been a telephone conversation but flatly denied the official had agreed to meet Sea Shepherd, saying “no proper appointment” had ever been made.

“It’s a question of whom you believe,” Akimoto said.

Before trying to enter the ministry, Sea Shepherd members faced TV crews from the foreign press on the sidewalk.

“That press conference they called — what was that all about? So that they can just put it all up on their Web site?” Akimoto asked.

Lance-Watson was jailed in 2003 for releasing 15 dolphins trapped in a net awaiting slaughter off whaling city Taiji, in Wakayama Prefecture.

Japan’s annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins that begins in the autumn and spans six months, is officially condoned as part of traditional culture and called “pest control” by participants. The spearing used in the slaughter has provoked stark criticism around the world.

The petition calls on Japan to ban the “horrifically cruel slaughter” of small whales and dolphins and slams the government for encouraging “the consumption of dolphin meat while failing to warn of serious health risks from consuming it.”

Dolphin meat has repeatedly been found to contain dangerous levels of mercury. The results of a study posted in 2003 on the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s Web site showed 6.6 micrograms of methyl mercury, a highly toxic form of mercury, per gram of meat in bottlenose dolphins — 22 times greater than the government’s provisional permitted concentration of 0.3 micrograms per gram of meat.

Additional reporting by contributing writer Boyd Harnell.