DNA analysis suggests under-reported kills of threatened whales

NEWPORT, Ore. A new study analyzing whale meat sold in Korean markets suggests the number of whales being sold for human consumption in the Asian country is much higher than that being reported to the International Whaling Commission putting threatened populations of coastal minke whales further at risk.

The study, involving numerous researchers led by Scott Baker of Oregon State University, was just published in the journal Molecular Ecology. Baker, who is associate director of OSU's Marine Mammal Institute, also is presenting his findings to the International Whaling Commission this week at its annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.

Baker and his colleagues conducted 12 surveys at a selection of shops selling whale meat in certain Korean coastal cities from 1999 to 2003 and collected 289 samples. They initially expected to find that many of the cuts of meat they purchased would come from a small number of whales, but when they used DNA profiling or "fingerprinting" they discovered that their 289 samples came from 205 different whales.

Since the government of South Korea reported to the IWC just 458 minke whales killed overall during that five-year period, Baker said, the scientists began to question the accuracy of that reported number.

"We only sampled a portion of the shops selling whale meat, with gaps of several weeks and even months between surveys," Baker pointed out. "Since the average market 'half-life' of whale meat is six weeks, at most, we should have found far fewer individuals or the number of whales killed is actually much greater than is being reported."

To estimate the true number of whales in trade, the researchers used a novel model for "capture-recapture" analysis characterized by DNA profiles from each slice of whale meat which was developed by one of the co-authors of the study, Justin Cooke at the Center for Ecosystem Management Studies in Gutach, Germany. Although capture-recapture anal

Contact: Scott Baker
Oregon State University

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