A sting operation undertaken by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society resulted in a court case for a Californian seafood dealer who imported endangered whale meat from Tokyo and sold it to restaurants within the state.
Expected to plead guilty, 50-year-old Ginichi Y. Ohira was charged in Los Angeles federal court with knowingly selling a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose, considered a misdemeanor, in violation of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Ohira sold sei whale meat to Santa Monica Airport's The Hump restaurant, which closed its doors last year, after federal prosecutors charged the owner and chef with sales of the federally-protected mammal, according to court documents obtained by the City News Service.
Sea Shepherd undercover agents, led by Sea Shepherd activist Zoli Teglas, discovered the whale meat through multiple visits to the restaurant. Teglas, together with Sea Shepherd crewmember Crystal Galbraith and producer of The Cove Charles Hambleton, were able to perform surveillance to document the illegal activity.
Galbraith pocketed pieces of the meat served at The Hump, which was later tested and confirmed to be sei whale meat. Sei whales are found worldwide and although they are an endangered species, they are sometimes hunted in the North Pacific under a controversial Japanese scientific research program.
This evidence brought U.S. federal investigators into play and The Hump was eventually busted and forced to permanently close. Charges against the restaurant and chef were dropped after they admitted to serving sei whale and pledging to make a substantial contribution to whale preservation and endangered species protection groups.
In return, the plea bargain included having to identify Ohira as their supplier, who began importing whale meat from Japan about 10 years ago. According to newspaper reports, the misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of one year in federal prison, one year under supervised release, and a fine of $100,000.