Santa Monica Sushi Restaurant Charged With Selling Whale


According to federal authorities, a trendy sushi restaurant in Santa Monica has been serving its customers whale and horse meat. After being exposed by the filmmakers of an Oscar-winning documentary, the restaurant’s parent company and one of its chefs will face charges.

Two women involved with the making of “The Cove,” a documentary about the annual dolphin killings that take place in a fishing village in Japan, armed themselves with hidden cameras and visited The Hump, a restaurant in the Santa Monica Airport. They ordered “kujira”–Japanese for whale meat, which is considered a delicacy in that country but which is illegal to serve in the United States. After taping the waitress identifying the whale meat, as well as horse meat, the women snuck samples out in their napkins and had them tested by a researcher at Oregon State University. He confirmed that the food was, indeed, whale.

Two more undercover sting operations took place, one in February and one in March. At one of the visits, the chef left the restaurant and retrieved a package from a Mercedes in the parking lot, later telling a customer that it was whale meat.

Authorities raided the restaurant the next day. The chef, Kiyoshiro Yamamoto, 45, admitted that he had been serving whale meat, although it was unclear where he had obtained it from.

Yamamoto and Typhoon Restaurant Inc., the parent company of The Hump, are charged with the illegal sale of a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose. The charge is a misdemeanor, and carries a sentence of up to one year in federal prison and a potential fine of $200,000 for the company.

Whale is an endangered species, and Japan has come under fire for its hunting of whales. The International Whaling Commission issued a moratorium on commercial whale hunting, in 1980, in order to help rebuild the species’ population. Yet exceptions are made by the international law community for whales that are hunted and killed for scientific purposes, and Japan claims that this exemption applies to its hunts. Conservationists, however, say that this is a ruse to obtain whale meat for sale in restaurants and markets.

Japan is estimated to kill up to 1,000 whales each year.

A spokesperson for The Hump has said that the restaurant accepts responsibility for the crime and will pay the fine.

“The Cove” won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary.


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