Whales too polluted to be eaten by Faroe Islanders


You’d think living in the Faroe Islands, rainy chunks of basalt about midway between Norway and Iceland, would keep you out of the way of serious industrial pollution. We all know better these days, of course, but still: such a remote location!

New Scientist reports (28 November 2008) that the medical officers on the Faroe Islands have recommended an end to the consumption of whale meat from the thousands of pilot whales killed each year by islanders. It’s a traditional food which has kept off starvation in the past, but now the whales contain dangerous levels of mercury, PCBs, and DDT derivatives.

Tests on the people themselves have revealed “damage to fetal neural development, high blood pressure, and impaired immunity in children, as well as increased rates of Parkinson’s disease, circulatory problems and possibly infertility in adults.”

Mercury appears to be the pollutant causing the worst health problems, and the Faroese studies increase concerns about the risks of low levels of mercury in other populations.


Above, Church on the Faroe Islands. Photo source.

Below, a settlement on one of the 18 small islands. “Faroe” means “sheep”; early settlers brought sheep and oats to the islands, which are also home to many seabirds including puffins. Photo source.


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