------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 23:33:56 -0700 To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: "Los Angeles Alternative Media Network" <email@example.com> Subject: E-Link: For Sale- Meat from Endangered Protected Whales
FOR SALE: MEAT FROM ENDANGERED PROTECTED WHALES
By Sunny Lewis
HONOLULU, Hawaii, August 18, 1997, (ENS) - A pioneering DNA sampling technique is coming up with proof that the meat of endangered protected whales is being sold in the supermarkets, small stores and restaurants of Japan and South Korea. Blue whales and Humpbacks, Bryde's whales and Fins, Baird's beaked whales, porpoises and dolphins - all have been detected on the market by their distinctive DNA patterns.
Sue White, co-founder of Earthtrust, a small non-profit organization based in Kaneohe on the island of Oahu, came up with the inspiration for the whale DNA testing project one day in 1993 while sitting at the kitchen table with her husband Don, also an Earthtrust founder and longtime marine mammal protectionist.
Sue White posed the crucial question, "Does the existence of scientifically whaled meat in the marketplace mask the poaching and sale of endangered species?" Now that 150 whale meat samples have been analyzed, it appears that the answer is yes.
"We've had three surveys," said White, 1993, 1995, 1997. We found over 50 percent of the samples taken were not of minke whale." Under the International Whaling Commission (IWC) minke is a species that is allowed to be taken for "scientific" research.
Earthtrust has come to the conclusion that seven species of baleen whales are for sale on Japanese and South Korean markets, although "scientific" whaling permits in Japan were issued only for minke whales, and no legal take in Korea has been permitted.
The DNA sampling has revealed the existence of a new whale species. A 1996 Earthtrust report stated, "It is disturbing that two speciments of an unrecognized Balaenoptera species were for sale in a South Korean restaurant. The very existence of this new great whale species is just beginning to be recognized by biologists, in part because tissue samples were available for purchase - although Korean consumers may have known about it for a long time."
Earthtrust has developed techniques that allow scientists to clearly identify whether any particular piece of whale meat is from a "scientifically" taken minke whale or from an illegally traded endangered species.
Buyers go into Japanese and Korean outlets undercover as tourists or local residents and purchase whale meat. Scientists wait in small hotel rooms equipped with portable instruments called "minicyclers" for use in analyzing the whale meat samples.
The anonymous buyers try to get a comprehensive picture of the entire whale meat market. White said, "They go into all the different districts in Japan, inland and along the coast. They go into major department stores, into little back alley stores, to fish markets, the whole range. They buy eveything that they can from canned meat to bacon, sashimi. In restaurants they order whale meat and surreptitiously cut it up and stuff it in a purse - they don't eat it."
The store or restaurant is photographed, and the sample is photographed in the store if possible. Labels and receipts are retained, and a detailed purchase log is kept. The whale meat sells for up to US$100 per kilogram (2.2 pounds).
The sample of meat is put into sterilized test tubes and documented on video. Hands and equipment are washed between the handling of each specimen to ensure purity. The specimens are never out of the control of Earthtrust personnel.
When the samples are ready, millions of exact copies of the cells are created with a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) portable minicycler. The resulting "chemical snapshot" of whale DNA is not subject to the restrictions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Now legally considered synthetic DNA, these PCR samples can be transported internationally to a laboratory for complete computer comparison with a database of known whale DNA patterns. These patterns can tell a scientist not only what species the whale is but where it comes from in the oceans.
Two researchers perform two independent amplifications from each sample. These are returned to their institutional home laboratories for independent sequencing and statistical analysis. With this "double-blind" technique, White says, the accuracy of the DNA sequences collected and the identifications made from them is assured.
In 1986 the IWC adopted an indefinite moratoriun on commercial whaling. All baleen whales and sperm whales are currently protected. Dolphins, porpoises, beaked whales, narwhal and beluga whales, pygmy and dwarf sperm whales are not protected by the IWC moratorium. The Marine Mammal Protection Act in the U.S. and similar laws in New Zealand and some other countries protect these species in their own domestic waters only.
With the recovery of some whale populations, much discussion is taking place about the resumption of commercial whaling. The IWC appears to be inching closer to approval of commercial whaling. In White's view, "The trends are very ominious."
The majority of nations at the June meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) supported sustainable use of "abundant" whale stocks by casting their votes to allow trade in whale products, 57 to 51. The poll fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to lift the ban on commercial trading in whales.
"This indicates a significant decrease in opposition to whaling," Ginette Hemley of the World Wildlife Fund, told the Associated Press in June. "The whole tone of whaling debate has changed."
The Japan Whaling Association (JWA) is rejoicing at the changing mood of the international community towards whaling. "In the past, the debate has been rather one-sided, with western nations such as the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, France and Germany proclaiming that all whales were too endangered - and too special - to allow them to be hunted, even though some species numbered in the millions," the JWA said in a statement dated July 1, 1997. "Influenced by the incessant lobbying of powerful animal rights groups, who made the whale the fund-raising symbol of the environmental movement," the JWA continued, "the western nations and their client states took control of the International Whaling Commission, placing one obstacle after another in the path of nations which used whales as a traditional part of their food cultures."
At the upcoming IWC meeting in Monaco in October, the U.S. is going to apply for a quota of whales for the Makah aboriginal people who live on Washington state's Olympic Peninsula. A lot of Canadian groups are waiting to follow suit if the Makah whaling bid is approved. Japan has been saying that if the Makah get these whales then they should get approval for their small, coastal whaling which they claim is non-commercial whaling.
The Japan Whaling Association points out that the Northwestern Pacific minke whale stock has been estimated at 25,000 by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission. In the sighting survey conducted in parallel with 1997 sampling activities in the North Pacific, 315 sperm whales, 98 sei whales, and 19 fin whales were observed, "suggesting a steady recovery of the cetacean resources in these areas," the JWA stated.
The Japanese government is beginning to utilize the DNA testing techniques developed by Earthtrust scientists. To date, one DNA sampling survey has been conducted by Japan. The Japanese government also attempts to intercept and seize illegal whale meat smuggled in from Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, or from Taiwan via Russia. In all, the Japanese government has seized more than 500 tons of smuggled whalemeat since 1988, according to an Earthtrust report.
In a revealing incident in May of 1994, a group of South Koreans and Japanese were caught trying to smuggle 11 metric tons of whale meat into Nagasaki, Japan. Several members of this crew were arrested and tried in Japanese court, where it was determined that they had links to the Japanese Yakuza (Mafia). Japanese officials report that the meat came from endangered protected Bryde's whales, according to a U.S. Deparment of State cable from Tokyo to Washington in May, 1994.
An intensified DNA whale meat testing program is on the horizon. Earthtrust's whale DNA project has a new home at Harvard University. The Perkin-Elmer Cetus Corporation (Applied Biosystems Division) has recently donated an automated DNA sequencing system to help establish the Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics. The Center at Harvard is headed by Stephen R. Palumbi, who with C. Scott Baker, originally developed the whale DNA techniques at the University of Hawaii (UH) with additional help from research associates Frank Cipriano of UH and Gina Lento of the University of Auckland.
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