Russians caught with whale meat

The Russians face a large and smelly problem in the run up to the annual International Whaling Commission this month. Some 250 tons of frozen, spoilt and almost certainly illegal whale meat has to be destroyed.

Its owners have tried and failed to export it to the world's leading whale-eating nation, Japan. Then they began feeding it to mink on fur farms. Now the Russian authorities have decreed that it is not even fit for mink and must be destroyed.

The International Whaling Commission in Cambridge believes the meat came from pirate whaling in the Pacific after the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect.

Only one species is being legally hunted, using loopholes in the moratorium - the small minke whales taken by Japan and Norway. Analysis of the DNA genetic material in the mystery Russian meat shows it is from Bryde's whale, a larger species found in tropical Pacific waters. The 250 tons represents about 20 adult whales. Documents show the consignment came from Taiwan to Vladivostok two years ago.

A Russian shipping company tried to obtain permission from Japan's fisheries agency to export the meat to Tokyo. It was accompanied by an official certificate of origin saying it had been caught by Russian whalers in 1976, before the moratorium.

On checking, that document turned out to be forged. But even deep frozen meat was unlikely to be fit for human consumption after well over 10 years.

With some pride, the Japanese Government said it was playing strictly by international whale-conservation rules and blocking the import of the meat.

Igor Chestin, the World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) man in Moscow, said the passage through Russia was probably an ineffectual attempt to ''launder'' the whale meat.

Japan already holds frozen stocks of eight whale species which, claims the WWF, leaves a serious potential loophole for laundering illegal whale meat.