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Portrait - Stephen Palumbi

Marine biologist Stephen Palumbi pioneered genetic testing to identify sea creatures from samples of
Photograph by Jim Harrison
their tissue. In October he received a $150,000 Pew Fellowship to advance his current project, and that was good news for whales. All commercial whaling was halted in 1986, but countries may obtain permits to kill a limited number of certain species for research. Parts of the whales not needed for research may be sold, which is why one can buy smoked whale bacon in Japan or a whale steak at the grocery store in Korea. Suspicious that more whale meat was appearing in Asian markets than had any right to be there, Earth Trust, a nonprofit agency in Hawaii, asked Professor Palumbi whether he could tell which species of whales were being retailed in bits and pieces. That was easy, if time-consuming, to do genetically. Palumbi and colleagues went to Japan, copied the DNA of whale-meat specimens, brought the copies home for DNA sequencing, and discovered that blue, finback, humpback, and other whales that ought not to be going to market were. Such discoveries help the international body monitoring the killing of whales enforce rules that had been virtually unenforceable. After 11 years in the sun, Palumbi moved himself and his laboratory from the University of Hawaii to Harvard last September. He, his physician wife, and their two children settled in Lexington, Massachusetts. The family dog has just about stopped shivering, and the children have learned to wear shoes.