Meat from whales killed as part of Japan's "scientific" hunt was served last year in upscale sushi restaurants in Los Angeles and Seoul, according to a DNA analysis published Wednesday.
A global ban on whaling was imposed 14 years ago, but Japan has courted controversy for years by invoking an exception in the ban for scientific research and by dispatching a whaling fleet that harpoons several hundred whales a year.
The fleet brings home thousands of tons of whale meat that are sold across Japan, but which cannot legally be sold to buyers in the United States or South Korea.
In what may prove to be a major embarrassment to the Japanese government, the peer-reviewed DNA analysis suggests that distribution of whale meat may be haphazardly managed and could be flowing into an international smuggling network.
The analysis showed that two pieces of whale meat sold last October in a Los Angeles area restaurant called The Hump were "identical" to whale products purchased in Japan in 2007 and 2008, according to a paper written by an 11-member group of scientists and conservationists from the United States, South Korea and Japan.