Mystery Meat: Japan Unable to Account for Fin Whales on Sale

Evidence has emerged on day one of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting suggesting Japan killed more endangered fin whales in 2007 than previously reported to the international body. A new report submitted to the IWC Scientific Committee appears to confirm warnings from international researchers and conservationists that Japan is underreporting the number of whales it kills each year.   “The Government of Japan is unable to regulate the sale of whale meat in the country,” said Naoko Funahashi, Director of IFAW Japan and co-author of the report. “DNA testing proves more fin whales are being sold in Japan than the Government admits having killed.  Something’s fishy.”

The research team, led by Dr. Scott Baker of Oregon State University, analyzed DNA samples from 99 whale meat products purchased in Japan since 2006 and discovered unique DNA characteristics from seven baleen whale species.  In the case of fin whales, the study identified 3 individuals in 2006 and 12 individuals in 2007 -- a total of 15 individual fin whales. However, the Government of Japan reported a total of 13 fin whales killed under its scientific whaling program over the same period. By-catch records submitted by Japan do not account for the additional fin whale meat in the market.  The Government of Japan claims to have DNA records for each whale killed, but refuses to share the information.  Upon receipt of the new report the Scientific Committee again urged Japan to provide such data.

Previous DNA studies have indicated that a variety of protected species are sold in Japan under the cover of products obtained by “Scientific” Whaling.

“The Government of Japan claims it can regulate whaling and the whale meat trade.  In truth, it can’t do either,” said Patrick Ramage IFAW Whale Program Director.  “Now that same government is calling for compromise at the IWC while steadfastly refusing to share data. Ending the sham of scientific whaling would be a good first step on both fronts. ”

Japan’s whaling program has been criticized worldwide criticism as a commercial endeavor operating under the veil of science. It currently exploits a loophole in IWC regulations, which allows for lethal whale research. The IWC has, on numerous occasions called on Japan to end its whaling program, saying it bears no relevance to cetacean management goals.

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