“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.