SAPPORO — The annual dolphin hunt in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, as documented in the film "The Cove" has sparked an emotional international debate, with animal rights activists decrying the capture and slaughter as unnecessary and cruel, and those in Japan who defend the slaughter as both legally permissible under international treaties and an ancient tradition.

But for Tetsuya Endo, a professor at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, there is a far more important issue related to the hunt that the public and the government must address.

Dolphin and whale meat is high in mercury, and Endo, one of the world's foremost authorities on mercury levels in dolphins and whales caught off Japan's coastal waters, has discovered Taiji residents who eat the meat sold in local stores have extremely high concentrations in their bodies.