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Federal prosecutors charge Santa Monica restaurant with illegal sale of whale meat

Federal prosecutors Wednesday filed criminal charges against a Santa Monica sushi restaurant and one of its chefs, alleging that they sold endangered whale meat.

Named in the complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, were Typhoon Restaurant Inc., owner of the Hump restaurant at Santa Monica Airport, and chef Kiyoshiro Yamamoto, 45, of Culver City. Both were charged with the illegal sale of a marine mammal product, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a maximum fine of $100,000 for an individual and $200,000 for an organization.

“Someone should not be able to walk into a restaurant and order a plate of an endangered species,” said U.S. Atty. André Birotte Jr. in a prepared statement.

The Hump restaurant, a hip sushi hangout, came under fire after allegations surfaced in Tuesday’s  New York Times that it had served endangered Sei whale meat, possibly straight from the trunk of a white Mercedes.

In a statement, Gary Lincenberg, an attorney for the Hump, said the restaurant “accepts responsibility for the wrongdoing charged by the U.S. attorney and will agree to pay a fine and resolve this matter in court.”

The sale of whale meat came to light after federal agents and animal activists cooperated in a sting orchestrated by the associate producer of the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove.”

Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, an environmental organization, said he was shocked by the revelations. “This is something I never thought would happen in Santa Monica, home of Heal the Bay, the NRDC [Natural Resources Defense Council] and my house,” he said.

-- Martha Groves

Comments () | Archives (26)

Whale meat tastes great. It's very rich and has a unique flavor.

It's too bad that a lot of it is quite contaminated since they're closer to the top of the food chain and all of those little bits of pollution that we humans dump into the ocean collects in large quantities in the whales bodies.

People get all up in arms about eating whale but what it comes down to is traditions clashing against other people's sense of morality.

Inuit people still eat whale to this day and I don't see people getting all stirred up about that now.

They should be shut down.

I heard it tastes like chicken....

Who knew Santa Monica was a hotspot of decadent dining on select cuts of endangered species?

And not just any endangered species like Alagoas Curassow or Brazilian Merganser that inspires little sympathy, no. Sliced & laid on plates were Sei whale steaks, whales being among the charismatic mega-fauna that generate the most empathy & largest donations for environmental groups. Whales are up there with harp seal puppies, mountain gorillas & polar bears for Greenpeace fund-raising ad's.

Of course that restaurant didn't serve this if it didn't sell. Yes, Santa Monica, in your midst are whale eaters, many of whom likely claim to be environmentalist liberals. Time for a purge, and some introspection on elitist attitudes that rules are great ideas, for other people to follow...

"And my house"? Who cares where Mark Gold lives? His lawn and Prius-washing runoff probably goes right into the Bay.

"...possibly straight from the trunk of a white Mercedes."

what the ____?

I think that statement might benefit from further clarification.
I've never had sushi from a trunk, but I am intrigued.

Utterly disgraceful. As a community, we should avoid this restaurant.

I hope the punishment for this crime goes beyond some paltry fine and minor jail time and that these people lose any restaurant ownership. This just makes me sick.

This fuss is being created in order to get publicity for the greedy film makers who are hoping to get more financing for another film.
The real issue in America is the illegal occupation of two sovereign countries!
Let's bring our boys and girls home. Have they been forgotten for a fish?

Why is Mark Gold being attacked? He and his 'environmentalist liberal' organization has done more to ensure a safe and livable bay so that your kids can play and swim safely in the ocean and so you can eat fish that is less toxic. To care for our oceans and the diversity of its wildlife is to care for the future of all mankind (so what's elitist about that???) so if you haven't figured out this by now, I suggest you find another planet to live on because we can't afford people who are just making it unlivable for everyone else. There is no Planet B and extinction is forever!

And how do you know Mark Gold drives a Prius? You are just stereotyping! I'm a proud Prius owner and no, haven't had any acceleration problems and my brakes work just fine, thank you. Oh, I also happen to be a Heal the Bay member as well as belong to Greenpeace, NRDC, TreePeople, Environmental Defense Fund, Galapagos Conservancy, Nature Conservancy, WWF, Sierra Club...call me an enviro liberal but I think we care more about our planet and our collective future than most of you who just try to bash others who are trying to do good in this world and make it better.

I'm incredulous.

Utterly shameful. Hump - what clue was that? - they should be shunned and shut down. There is no redemption from this.

Thank you US Attorney for reminding us what good government looks like. The endangered species have missed you.

Here in Hawaii, the locals would argue that eating whale meat should be legal because of "tradition." I'd like to thank the Feds for enforcing the law.

Nobody gets stirred up about the Inuit hunting whales and eating their meat because they eat whale meat as a matter of sustenance and genuine survival. They do not abuse the animals or the privilege of hunting whales, as other whalers do. They are respectful and careful hunters who have a reverence for these magnificent creatures, taking just what they NEED, not what they WANT. It's a central part of their culture. Whale meat served at a shi-shi restaurant in Santa Monica is a needless novelty and a luxury for bored foodies looking for the next gastronomic "thing." Everyone talks about rights and entitlement. No, you are NOT entitled to eat whale meat, as are the Inuit. This is no "tradition" as it is with the Inuit. bobo offers a specious and poorly reasoned argument. This is not a matter of one kind of morality clashing with another. This is a matter of genuine ethics and truth. Besides, Hump, Typhoon Restaurant, Inc. and Kiyoshiro Yamamoto are BREAKING THE LAW. End of discussion. Hump needs to be boycotted until it is forced out of business.

This is appalling. I certainly hope that decent people will boycott those restaurants and make it clear there is a price to be paid for this criminal activity.

While I agree it is a culture clash among Japanese and westerners, what isn't is the fact that hunting/eating this specific whale, the Sei, is illegal in the U.S. It not only violates the Endangered Species Act, but also the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This goes beyond how you feel about eating whale. We are all going to have an emotional opinion about such topics. But, it's the simple fact that eating such an animal, here is the U.S., is illegal. Let's be frank: if you commit a crime, you should be punished.

How many different types of whales can the Japanese catch using modern vessels all around the world in international waters compared to the Inuit using their traditional ships and means? Don't people understand that endangered means that unless it's stopped, they won't be any whales to see, let alone eat?

Does anyone know the particulars of the meat once it's in the kitchen or the refrigerated case on the bar? Do they actually call it "whale" or some other code word? Perhaps only "those in the know" know to order it? I'd like to find out how this has been going on, because it should be banned. If there's no market, there's no slaughter.

Dear Fred Barnett, I think I speak for many in Hawaii when I tell you to stop making crap up about "the locals." Your condescending attitude, shared by many mainland transplants, is what's killing Hawaii.

On a completely separate note, whale meat is like fish-flavored steak, in case anyone is curious.

Ha ha Santa Monica ha ha. You hypocrites.

You know this stuff has got to be super expensive and you know you want to go there. I sure do. We can take the Prius and buy some carbon credits afterwards.

Silly mistake by the restaurant. Should have asked the customer to go to Japan if wanting to eat whale meat.

Leave me alone, Ahab San!


Russian agencies, quoting the government's press service, said Putin treated Obama to black caviar with sour cream, smoked beluga with pancakes and tea made in the traditional Russian samovar, a big coal-fired kettle.



IUCN classifies the beluga as Endangered. It is a protected species listed in appendix III of the Bern Convention and its trade is restricted under CITES appendix II. The Mediterranean population is strongly protected under appendix II of the Bern Convention, prohibiting any intentional killing of these fish.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has banned imports of Beluga Caviar and other beluga products from the Caspian Sea since October 6, 2005.

I want to go to the hump and try some exotic seafood.

How completely outrageous that this restaurant is openly and illegally serving an endangered species which has been protected in this country for almost forty years! What's next---panda? Snow leopard? By all means, heaven forbid we should let ethics get in the way of a sophisticated and trendy palate. We're not talking tradition here, we're not talking even about a cultural difference like eating horse or dog---what part of ENDANGERED SPECIES and ILLEGAL don't these people get? I won't even start on the food health implications of meat being dispensed out of the trunk of a car in the parking lot. Good grief. This business and its owners don't deserve a slap on the wrist---they deserve to be shut down once and for all and a crippling fine.

That restaurant in Santa Monica wasn't honoring anyone's "tradition"...they were just being greedy and catering to selfish rich people who have derelict tastes, and both buyer and seller were breaking the law, plain and simple. Whales, dolphins and other cetaceans are not meant to be eaten. This is the 21st Century and it is no longer appropriate to do so.

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