Research Article

Molecular species identification of whale meat in South Korean markets

Published: May 28, 2019
Genet. Mol. Res. 18(2): GMR18171 DOI: 10.4238/gmr18171


Commercial whaling has been banned since the moratorium of the International Whaling Commission in 1986. However, domestic sale of cetaceans that are caught as bycatch is still allowed in South Korea. Although whale meat is not very popular in South Korea, it is consumed in certain areas. To identify the species composition of whale meat in South Korean markets, we collected 54 samples that were sold as minke whale meat at restaurants and markets of four cities: Seoul, Ulsan, Busan, and Pohang. Of the 54 whale meat samples, 51 were successfully identified using the partial mitochondrial cytochrome b gene (806–1,140 bp) amplified for species identification. Molecular species identification revealed three species among the samples: minke whale (52%), common dolphin (22%), and narrow-ridged finless porpoise (26%). We also gathered data for cetacean bycatch in South Korea. In total, 19 species were confirmed to be incidentally caught in South Korea over the past 13 years, and minke whale (13%), common dolphin (30%), and narrow-ridged finless porpoise (45%) were recorded as the most frequently caught species. The sale of “fake” minke meat in the markets may have been due to a lack of availability of minke meat, as well as the difference in market values of meat from baleen and toothed whales. These factors that lead to the sale of “fake” minke meat are thought to be contributing causes of the illegal, unregulated, and unreported exploitation of small cetaceans. To prevent such exploitation, it is necessary to continuously monitor whale meat using molecular species identification. Our study improves the understanding of which species of whales (meat) are sold in South Korea and proposes a management policy for the conservation of small cetaceans in South Korea