Is the birth of an earless rabbit a sign of the effects of the Fukushima disaster in Japan? The rabbit was reportedly found near Fukushima in May and, as Salon notes, it has been hailed as a sign of the Fukushima disaster’s catastrophic damage by the Japanese media. The video below was posted on May 21 on YouTube:
Scientists quoted in AOL News point out that other factors could have caused an apparently “mutant bunny” to be born. Says F. Ward Whicker, professor emeritus at Colorado State University’s Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences:
“Yes, radiation can cause mutations that can be occasionally expressed as obvious birth defects, such as shown in the video,” Whicker wrote in an e-mail. “However, to say this is the result of contamination from the Fukushima accident is a stretch, because natural radiation, as well as many other chemical substances in the environment and other factors, can also be mutagenic.”
In most cases, the cause of congenital birth defects in humans and other animals cannot be determined, he said.
“So far as science has shown, there have never been mutations produced by ionizing radiations that do not occur spontaneously as well.”
Mary Cotter, a licensed veterinary technician and New York City chapter manager for the House Rabbit Society, points out that rabbits can look like they were born without ears due to a mother rabbit over-grooming her young and chewing off their ears (in which case there would be “jagged edges of flesh surrounding their auditory canals” — not that it needs to be pointed out, but nature’s realities are far, far removed from Disneyfied cutesiness).
The questions over how the rabbit was born in such an earless state reflects the uncertainty of scientists and the Japanese over the long-term health risks of the Fukushima disaster. As the New York Times reports, it’s uncertain what the effects of exposure to small doses of radiation over a long period of time might be:
The general assumption is that when people are exposed to small doses for decades, the incidence of cancer will rise over time. But that prediction is based on extrapolating from data on people who were exposed to acute brief doses when atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 — not on observing individuals exposed to small doses over decades.
Some researchers argue that all humans are regularly exposed to a low natural level of radiation, and that it is not harmful when below a certain threshold, although fetuses may be an exception. Another vocal minority argues that there is statistical evidence for higher cancer rates among people exposed to tiny incremental doses.
The debate about the effects of the Fukushima disaster have so far centered mostly on children in Japan. Initially, government guidelines made after the disaster “allowed schoolchildren in Fukushima Prefecture to be exposed to 20 times the radiation dose previously permitted.” After harsh parental outcry, the government lowered the permissible level and said it would move contaminated topsoil from schools. If more earless, or other deformed, animals are found, let’s hope the Japanese government doesn’t keep dragging its feet to find out what’s really going on, and let people know.
Photo by SandoCap.