Subject: Illegal Whale Trade Evidence F (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Tue, 12 May 1998 11:15:15 -0400 (EDT)


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 12 May 98 12:20:00 GMT 
Subject: Illegal Whale Trade Evidence F

Illegal Whale Trade Evidence Found

 Associated Press Writer
   WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Taking surreptitious samples from
sushi restaurants and supermarket freezers, two sleuthing New
Zealand scientists have uncovered strong evidence of an
international black market in whale meat in Japan and South Korea.
   Tests conducted by the Auckland University researchers revealed
that a wide variety of whale meat is still on sale, despite a
12-year-old international moratorium on whale hunting.
   A piece of meat from a Japanese fish market, for example, was
found to be from a type of humpback whale found only in Mexican
coastal waters.
   "How can a Mexican whale turn up on a Japanese dinner plate?
There is no evidence Mexican whales ever migrate into Japanese
waters," said one of the scientists, Gina Lento.
   The scientists also found southern hemisphere sei whale, Bryde's
whale, North Pacific minke, fin and blue whale meat on sale in
Japanese markets, up to 30 years after they were protected from
   Japan is the only country exempted from the 1986 International
Whaling Commission moratorium on whale hunting, but is restricted
to hunting only for research. Meat from the whales killed for this
purpose often is sold at fish markets, however.
   Norway also holds an annual hunt, in defiance of the moratorium.
   South Korea has no research hunting permits, and whale meat can
be sold legally in markets only if caught accidentally on the coast
along with legal fish.
   The scientists' work bolsters claims by conservation groups,
independent researchers and some governments that there is a
growing international trade in illegal whale meat.
   Their report, delivered to the Whaling Commission's scientific
committee last week, will go to the full commission in Oman this
   The report says there is a "surprising diversity" of whale
meat in commercial markets, some of which is of questionable
   "The evidence is strongly circumstantial at present, the
smoking gun, if you will," Lento told The Associated Press. "We
are moving toward a forensic approach that will provide the bullet
in the body and the hand that pulled the trigger."
   An officials in Japan criticized the findings, while a
counterpart in South Korea denied that illegal whale meet was sold
   Yoo Min-sok, with South Korea's Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Ministry, acknowledged that about 100 whales were caught
accidentally last year and sold on the local market. But he said
there were no reports of an illegal whale harvest.
   The "report is not worth our serious attention, and we regret
that a report that is scientifically groundless was presented,"
said Masatsugo Nagano, an official with the Japanese ministry in
charge of whaling.
   However, Yasuo Takase, director of fisheries for the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, conceded that there have been some cases of
illegal sales of whale meat in Japan but said such cases were rare.
   In the past four years, Lento and colleague Scott Baker have
made two trips a year to Japan and South Korea. They hired local
investigators posing as buyers to obtain samples.
   Using a portable laboratory, the scientists used DNA testing and
a whale DNA database to identify the types of whale meat being sold
in the two countries.
   They also used DNA profiling to identify whether separate
samples came from the same whale.
   "If we find samples from two countries are the same, that will
be direct evidence of smuggling," Lento said.
   In a similar case in California, fish and game officials
recently used a newly developed technique for typing deer DNA to
show that 200 pounds of venison from a man's freezer came from more
deer than the hunting limit allows. The technique, among other
things, can determine whether meat is from a male or female, and
how many deer it came from.
   Further work is needed to show whether whale meat being sold in
Japan, South Korea and other markets actually comes from areas of
the globe where whaling is banned, Lento said.
   "We don't have direct, definitive proof. But our DNA evidence
suggests there are some very sticky questions ahead," she said.
   Lento and Baker are supported by grants from the International
Fund for Animal Welfare and the Auckland University Research
Council. In addition to providing their findings to the Whaling
Commission, they publish their results in academic journals.