The whale meat sold at a hipster Santa Monica sushi restaurant came from Japan, a paper in Royal Society’s Biology Letters shows. The results highlight a growing body of research that shows there’s a thriving international black market for whales caught both under the guise of research and bycatch.
We all knew that the whale sushi sold in the U.S. wasn’t caught off the Santa Monica pier, but we didn’t know where it came from beyond the Mercedes in the parking lot. Biologists now want the normally flaccid International Whaling Commission to stand up to recalcitrant whaling countries and demand a public DNA registry of the whales they admit taking. The database of legal whales could show just how many whales are being poached.
Charles Hableton, producer of the Cove, is the big Hollywood name on the paper and at the original sting operation, but the big academic name is C. Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University. Baker is a pioneer in using whalemeat DNA to show where whales were caught–often where they weren’t supposed to. Some of his previous work has shown:
- Some sei whale meat sold in Japan inexplicably came from the southern hemisphere.
- Japan’s fish markets sold meat from 19 individual fin whales at a time they only admitted to taking 15.
- 46% of whalemeat sold was from protected local waters–suggesting that “bycatch” kills as many as “scientific research” whaling
Baker warned at the time that this excuse of bycatch was getting out of hand. How many whales can you catch on accident?
In response to the study, Korea confiscated whale meat from a Japanese restaurant to see whether it had been illegally imported.
An ironic side note in the paper: the Santa Monica menu also claimed to contain horse meat, but tests showed the restaurant was just suckering their despicable patrons who wanted to eat “adventurously.” The supposed horse meat was really cow. Which begs the question: why didn’t they just fake it with the whale meat, too?