Mercury: How It Made Cats Dance
Mercury has captivated humanity for ages. But what happens when it invades a town?
In 1953, in the coastal town of Minamata in Japan, locals noticed some cats were acting strangely—twitching, spinning in circles, almost dancing. The reality was far darker. What looked like dancing was really convulsions. The cats drooled, spun in circles, and flung themselves into the sea. The cause of this strange behavior, residents discovered, was mercury.
Mercury—a silvery liquid, named for a quick-footed Roman God—has captivated humans since ancient times. It’s found in Egyptian tombs that date to 1500 BCE, and the first emperor of unified China believed it was the elixir of life. But what happens when it invades a town, and seeps into our brains?
Read a transcript of this episode.
For this story, we relied heavily on the book Minamata : Pollution and the Struggle for Democracy in Postwar Japan.
Learn how mercury played a pivotal role in pinpointing a key campsite location in the Lewis and Clark expedition.
This episode of Science Diction was written by Kaitlyn Schwalje, and produced by Elah Feder and Johanna Mayer. Elah is our Editor and Senior Producer. Daniel Peterschmidt sound designed this episode and composed all the music. We had fact checking help from Danya Abdelhameid and Robin Palmer. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
This season of Science Diction is sponsored by Audible.