“Dog Eats Whale:” a pretty arresting headline. It’s much stronger than that hoary old journalistic chestnut “Man Bites Dog” and it's proved to be far more striking. A news story linking whale meat to the dog food market has enraged conservationists, repelled consumers and panicked a Japanese pet food company into withdrawing one of its product lines.
Here’s how it happened: an Icelandic firm, Hvalur hf, was set to resume commercial whaling next month. The plan? Kill up to 174 of the endangered fin whales and sell the meat to Japan.
Cue the angry environmentalists. The whaling alone was enough to infuriate, but they were apoplectic when they learned that much of the catch is intended as a luxury snack for dogs.
“It’s outrageous,” says Claire Perry of the Environmental Investigation Agency. “It is grotesque to kill an endangered species and then ship it half way around the world in order to feed it to dogs.”
Tokyo-based Michinoku Farm has become a target for the anger. The company has been selling dog treats made from Icelandic fin whale jerky at prices ranging from $5.97 for a 60-gram packet up to $37.13 for half a kilo. In case you want even more exotic jerky, Mongolian horsemeat and kangaroo are also available.
Takuma Konno, head of Michinoku, says he’s now scrapping the fin whale chews because of the outcry. Even so, he has a defense for his decision to stock them in the first place.
“Dogs are like family members for many people in Japan,” Konno says. “We just wanted to supply a wide variety of food for them. We consider dogs as just as important as whales. But it’s not worth selling the product if it risks disturbing some people.”
The move to scrap the whale jerky hasn't changed anything for the whalers in Iceland: the hunt is going ahead next month. A Hvalur hf spokesman denied the company had ever supplied whale meat for dog treats in the first place.
Iceland, along with Norway and Japan, refuses to abide by the moratorium on whaling. The government in Reykjavik says the fin whale population around the country’s western coastline is recovering strongly after a three-year break.
Hvalur hf says despite the furor, it has “truly green” credentials: The company uses geothermal energy to melt the fat from the whale carcasses.
Oh, and its ships are powered by whale oil.