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We report on genetic identification of ‘whale meat’ purchased in sushi restaurants in Los Angeles, CA (USA) in October 2009 and in Seoul, South Korea in June and September 2009. Phylogenetic analyses of mtDNA cytochrome b sequences confirmed that the products included three species of whale currently killed in the controversial scientific whaling programme of Japan, but which are protected from international trade: the fin, sei and Antarctic minke. The DNA profile of the fin whale sold in Seoul established a match to products purchased previously in Japan in September 2007, confirming unauthorized trade between these two countries. Following species identification, these products were handed over to the appropriate national or local authorities for further investigation. The illegal trade of products from protected species of whales, presumably taken under a national permit for scientific research, is a timely reminder of the need for independent, transparent and robust monitoring of any future whaling.