While this is bad it is hardly the first time Japan has been caught redhanded killing or importing endangered whales.
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Harvard University Evolutionary Biologist Steve Palumbi.
STEVE PALUMBI: One of the first ones we looked at was what species were really present in the retail market that sell whale meat around the world.
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1985. But, for scientific research only, nations can still capture the more-abundant species of Minke whales and those animals can later be sold commercially. So, any whale meat for sale should be only Minke whale. Right?
STEVE PALUMBI: Well the problem is, if you ever go to the retail market in Japan or Korea, once you buy a piece of whale meat, it's a tiny little piece of a very big animal, and all the things that you might need to tell what species of whale it was are gone. But that little piece of meat still has the DNA in it. So we developed a way to go into that market, sample those specimens, and then sequence the DNA to try to find out, one, what the species were and sometimes, where those animals actually came from. But we found humpback whales, and we found fin whales and gray whales and sperm whales, and blue whales, and pilot whales, dolphins, porpoises, a huge number of different species are in this market. And that was quite a surprise to people because it was supposed to be a Minke whale meat market, and it turn out to be much more than that. So the DNA testing has at least the promise to be able to keep the market honest. And by keeping the market honest, that means you can at least try to afford protection to species that really need it, where at the same time allowing the exploitation of species that have been recovering and might be able to be fished at some low level.
This one is from April 2008, tells the same story happening today!
The conservation organizations Earthtrust and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) this week announced the results of 3 years of DNA analysis of whalemeat samples collected in Japanese and Korean markets. Despite the fact that only minke whales are "legally" taken, a surprising diversity of whale and dolphin meat was found, sold as "kujira" or "gorae" (both terms translate as "whale")**
One dramatic finding was a sample of raw meat sold in 1993 and analyzed this year, and a sample of bacon sold in 1995. These samples matched the mitochondrial DNA haplotype of a hybrid blue/fin whale taken in 1989 in Iceland. Thus these whale meat samples are either from blue whales or blue/fin hybrids. Further genetic analysis is planned to resolve this question.
"If either one of the 'blue whale' samples was derived from the Icelandic whale taken in 1989, it must have been exported to Japan between 1989 and 1992. However, the last legal imports from Iceland were sei whale (1990) and fin whale (1991). Thus, it boils down to whether the '93 and '95 samples could both have come from a blue/fin hybrid whale caught in Iceland in 1989 and then exported to Japan in 1990 or 1991 as a sei or fin whale and kept frozen there until 1993 and 1995," stated Dr. Frank Cipriano of the University of Hawaii's Kewalo Marine Laboratory.
Noted Don White of Earthtrust: "In fact, in a total sampling of only 150 different products, the only baleen whales not represented in the samples were bowhead, right, gray, and sei whales. Many species of dolphins and small cetaceans were also sold as whale... It's appalling that blue whale meat may still be sold 30 years after their 'protection' by the International Whaling Commission."
The researchers were also able to confirm that meat purchased in Korea in 1994 was from a new species of baleen whale, the "pygmy" Bryde's whale thought to be found only in tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific (from Indonesia to the Philippines). "It is troubling that a previously unrecognized species of baleen whale is for sale in Korean restaurants eight years after a moratorium on commercial whaling," stated Dr. Scott Baker. "Given that we know so little about its abundance and distribution, we need to consider the possibility that the "pygmy" Bryde's whale is being depleted or endangered by even a low level of illegal hunting or bycatch."
"The results of this work show clearly that any whaling on abundant species, such as the minke whale, also puts highly endangered whale and dolphins at risk " said Naoko Funahashi of IFAW.
This is the latest data from an initiative started in 1993 when Earthtrust buyers collected whale meat in Japan and secured the collaboration of whale-DNA scientists Dr. C. Scott Baker and Dr. Steve Palumbi to analyze meat collected by trained wildlife agents. That initial sampling showed a large diversity of products including the meat of the endangered humpback and other "protected" species.
In the years since, the techniques have been improved to the point where previously difficult-to-analyze samples may be readily amplified and identified, hence the new 1993 Japan results. Moreover, scientists working on this initiative have developed a "double blind" approach, in which each sample is analyzed in a somewhat different method in a separate lab, to provide certainty in identification of species.
In addition, surveys and analysis of the Korea marketplace were done in 1994 and 1995, funded by Earthtrust, the Endangered Species Project, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and IFAW. Commercial whaling is banned in Korea; moreover, these surveys show availability of several whale species which cannot plausibly come from local sources, such as bycatch.
Many additional questions have been raised by this work which need to be answered by Japanese and Korean Governments: Where and when did the blue whales come from, if blue whales are not
being hunted? Where and when did the northern hemisphere minkes come from? The Bryde's? The fins? The humpback? Where are the incidental catch records, if these are from incidental catches?Where are the import permits and storage documentation, if they were imported so long ago and stored ever since?
If stockpiles exist, isn't there a need for them to be fully checked, and genetically tested independently?
The Earthtrust Initiative was funded in 1995 by The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Humane Society of the United States, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and other contributors. The work of Dr. C. S. Baker, and Dr. Gina Lento, and the collection of many of the 1995 Japan samples and all 1995 Korea samples, was funded by IFAW.
The work of these groups is continuing, with Earthtrust announcing a new collaboration with Harvard University to be overseen by Dr. Steve Palumbi to research new and faster techniques of analysis.
And so, in 1993, the chain reaction had initiated, the Japanese whalers (known for being not so discerning about species - the current philosophy in that neck of the woods seems to be "a whale is a whale, but many yen")
Predictbly, Worldwatch Institute took dna-samples of the whale meat being offered in sale at the Osaka fish market, and, again just as predictably, Blue Whale DNA was found. Is a Blue Whale an endangered species? We'll know for sure when they are all dead.
Several undercover investigations have found meat from protected whales on sale in Japan. DNA tests have identified meat from fin and humpback whales.
Norway has a ban on the export of whale meat, but on 6 April 1996 an attempt to smuggle 6 tonnes of whale meat from Norway to Japan was foiled.
Toshio Kasuya, a retired professor who worked for the Fisheries Agency's whaling program in the 1980s, launched a scathing attack on his former colleagues.
"Without the earnings from the meat sales, the whaling organisation that undertakes the government-commissioned research program would be unable to continue operation, and the shipping company that provides the fleet for the program would not be able to recover costs for whaling vessel construction," he wrote in a newspaper.
"This is nothing other than an economic activity. It leaves no room for researchers to carry out research based on their own ideas."
More controversially, he says scientists were told in the 1980s to manipulate the quota of whales needed for research to ensure the program continued for as long as possible. "I regret very much my role in setting up this illegal whale research."
Twenty years later, Japan has killed almost 10,500 mostly minke and Bryde's whales, and has plans to slaughter several thousand more. By contrast, it killed just 840 whales in the name of scientific research between 1954 and the international moratorium on commercial whaling, imposed in 1986.
26 May 2003
Norway faces high hurdles for Japan whale sales
By Elaine Lies
TOKYO, May 26 (Reuters) - Top Norwegian officials arrived in Japan on Monday to promote their nation's seafood, but their long-term hopes to sell whale meat could be scuppered by worries that the delicacy is contaminated by toxic chemicals.
Tokyo and Norway have been discussing whale imports for over a year, but plans to resume the controversial trade were dealt a blow earlier this month when Norwegian scientists ruled that whale blubber it had hoped to sell to Japan contained dangerously high levels of banned PCB chemicals.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were formerly used in everything from paint to plastics. They build up in fatty tissues and have been linked to birth defects.
The blubber contamination could cast a pall over talks on other whale products, such as meat, that are likely to arise during the visit of Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, who arrived on Monday, and Fisheries Minister Svein Ludvigsen, who came on Sunday.
Oslo resumed the commercial hunting of minke whales in 1993, breaking with an international moratorium. Sales of the creamy blubber -- some 500 tonnes of which are stored in freezer warehouses in Norway -- were long seen as a potential gold mine if exported to Japan, where it is a delicacy.
Japanese officials, though, say food safety is paramount.
"It's all about safety," said a Fisheries Ministry official. "The fact that they can't sell the blubber raises questions about the rest of the meat.
"Whale trade is quite a big issue internationally and so we must proceed prudently."
Whale was an important source of protein in an impoverished Japan after World War Two, but has become a scarce, gourmet food in the last few decades as prices rose and supplies fell.
Media reports -- denied by officials -- have said whale imports were planned to bring down the price and spur consumption.
Consumer groups strongly oppose any imports.
"Not only the blubber, but also the red meat is contaminated," said Yoko Tomiyama, head of the Japan Consumers Union, citing a recent Norwegian warning that pregnant women should not eat whale because of high levels of toxic mercury.
"This should not be imported to Japan, and we have made our views clear to the government."
Japan abandoned commercial whaling in 1986 but carries out what it calls scientific research whaling, with most of the meat from that research ending up on restaurant tables and store shelves.
Tokyo agrees with protecting endangered species but argues that others, such as minkes, are numerous and not endangered. It has made numerous attempts to reinstate commercial whaling and is set to do the same at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission from June 16.
The official at the Fisheries Ministry said that while the subject of whale imports could well come up during talks that include a meeting with Japanese Agriculture Minister Yoshiyuki Kamei, any fast solution was unlikely.
"Everything won't just clear up quickly because the Norwegian Fisheries Minister is here," he said. "This will take time."