“Someone should not be able to walk into a restaurant and order a plate of an endangered species,” said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. in reference to the discovery that a prominent Los Angeles sushi restaurant, The Hump, was illegally selling raw whale meat last October.
An international team of Oregon State University scientists, documentary filmmakers and environmental advocates uncovered the illegal trade in whalemeat. And now in a newly published paper, genetic analysis of the sashimi has confirmed that the raw meat, purchased by filmmakers of the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” came from a sei whale which appears to have come from Japanese “scientific whaling.”
“The sequences were identical to sei whale products that had previously been purchased in Japan in 2007 and 2008, which means they not only came from the same area of the ocean–but possibly from the same distinct population,” said Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, who conducted the analysis. “And since the international moratorium on commercial hunting (1986), there has been no other known source of sei whales available commercially other than in Japan,” Baker added. “This underscores the very real problem of the illegal international trade of whalemeat products.”
In the early 1980s, the International Whaling Commission determined that there should be a moratorium on commercial whale hunting. However, whaling is allowed under international law when done for scientific reasons, which Japan cites as the legal basis for its hunts–the very controversial practice is responsible for the death of up to 1,000 annually.
In their paper published in Biology Letters, lead author Baker and colleagues from the Korean Federation of Environmental Movements also report on 13 whale products purchased at a sushi restaurant in Seoul, South Korea, during two 2009 visits. The sushi was part of a mixed plate of whale sashimi; genetic testing by Baker and OSU’s Debbie Steel determined that four of the products were from an Antarctic minke whale, four were from a sei whale, three were from a North Pacific minke whale, one was from a fin whale, and one was from a Risso’s dolphin.
Things started heating up at The Hump when “The Cove” director Louie Psihoyos and assistant director Charles Hambleton covertly filmed the serving of whale products. Following initial identification of the samples taken from the restaurant, the products were turned over to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s law enforcement division and in March, federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against the restaurant.
The misdemeanor charge carries a federal prison sentence of up to a year and a fine of up to $200,000 for the company, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office.
In good news for whales (and horses too, another “delicacy” served by the restaurant), The Hump is now closed.
Sign a petition to help end whaling here.