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

Monday, 23 June, 2008
Santiago, Chile
Evidence has emerged on day one of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting suggesting that more endangered fin whales have been killed than previously reported to the international body by the Government of Japan. 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 from 99 whale meat products purchased in Japanese markets since 2006 and identified six baleen whale species: humpback, fin, sei, Bryde’s, North Pacific minke and Antarctic minke.  In the case of the fin whales, the study used methods similar to human forensic genetics to identify products from a total of 15 individual for sale in 2006 and 207. However, the Government of Japan reported a total of only13 fin whales killed under its scientific whaling program over the same period. Official records of whales entangled and killed in fisheries nets (‘by-catch’) do not seem to account for the additional fin whale meat in the market.  Although the Government of Japan claims to have DNA records for each whale killed, it refuses to share the information.  After considering the new report from the market surveys, the Scientific Committee again urged Japan to provide such data to help detect any Illegal, Unreported or Unregulated (IUU) catches.
Previous DNA studies have indicated that a variety of protected species are sold in Japan under the cover of products obtained by “Scientific” Whaling and as fisheries bycatch.
“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 operation 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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