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Save the Whales! April 23, 2010

Posted by ecogeeko10 in Biology, Environment/Conservation, Genetics, Policy.
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We are having a great time in our Molecular Genetics class (BIO 415) right now because we are currently underway on a project genetically analyzing different fish products being sold in local markets and restaurants. Apparently there has been a real problem with the mislabeling of these fish products throughout the country, which can lead to the illegal sale of endangered species or the misrepresentation of the demographics of  fish sold making it hard to police sustainable fishery methods.   We wanted to see if this problem is prevalent in our hometown of Indianapolis, IN.  It was for this reason that I was excited to see that the same experiments and techniques are still being used elsewhere.

Just recently, a team of filmmakers, Oregon State University scientists, and environmentalists investigated some sashimi being sold at sushi bars on the west coast and found that there is whale meat illegally circulating in this market. Through genetic analysis, the team was able to find that these sequences were genetically identical to whale products that have been previously purchased in Japanese markets. Unfortunately, these products are most likely coming from what is supposed to be Japanese “scientific whaling” expeditions. This means that whale meat is being traded as a food product even though the commercial hunting of whales was banned by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986. The restaurants have subsequently been shut down as a result of these findings.

This illegal trading activity isn’t just occurring between the United States and Japan, though. Further studies have revealed there to be a total of 13 whale products being sold in places as far as Seoul, South Korea. However, the samples can’t be conclusively linked to an individual whale unless the genetic identity records of the “scientifically killed” animals are released by the Japanese government. As of now, Japan is conveniently refusing to release this important information. Therefore, one of the major focuses of the researchers, right now, is to obtain these records because it is only with this information that they can provide resource managers with the best possible science.

Though it is very sad to see that such illegal activity is still going on around the world, I think it’s cool to see that certain tools and techniques that we are using in our Molecular Genetics class is up to date and is still being used throughout the scientific community. It also amazes me that science has become so advanced over the years that we are now able to do the unimaginable. Who would ever thought, fifty years ago, that we would be able to narrow down the source of a particular piece of whale meat being sold in Los Angeles to a single whale population off the coast of Japan. Hopefully our newfound abilities in molecular genetics will continue to help scientists in uncovering various illegal activities and will help to better prevent such activities from continuing. Now, however, it seems like our biggest problem is trying to get the necessary information from the appropriate individuals (e.g. the whaling records from the Japanese government). It is with these tools and information that we can achieve our ultimate conservation goals.

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