Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Whale Meat Found In Sushi Sting

The owners of a trendy sushi restaurant in California are facing prosecution for allegedly serving banned whale meat, it has emerged.

The Hump restaurant was reportedly caught in an undercover sting by the team behind Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, which features covert scenes of the barbaric annual dolphin hunt in Japan (see clip of trailer above).

One of the activists had been tipped off by friends in the music industry that whale meat was being served at the $300 a head restaurant in Santa Monica. So they went along there with hidden cameras during the Academy Awards ceremony last week, and say they were given thick, pink slices of whale on the omakase menu, where chefs choose a selection of dishes for customers to try.

In the footage, the waitress can reportedly be heard calling the meat “whale”. It was also referred to at times by its Japanese name, kujira. The pair put the £40 dish in a bag and sent it off for DNA analysis to the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University.

Scientists confirmed it was Sei whale, which are endangered but hunted in the North Pacific under a controversial Japanese programme that allows the killing of up to 1,000 whales a year under the guise of scientific research.

Police then carried out their own undercover operation and broke up the alleged smuggling operation. According to court papers, staff said the meat came from the boot of a Mercedes parked outside the restaurant.

“We’re moving forward rapidly,” Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the United States attorney for the Central District of California, told the New York Times.

He declined to say what charges could be brought against the restaurant, but said they could come as early as this week. Violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act can lead to a year in prison and a fine of $20,000.

Many top sushi restaurants serve unusual fish imported from Japan, and whale meat is often found in Tokyo markets. But Professor Baker said he had never heard of it being served in an American restaurant.

“I’ve been doing this for years,” he told the paper. “I was pretty shocked.”

Staff at the Hump – apparently named after the aviation slang name for the Himalayas rather than the type of whale it (allegedly) sells - refused to discuss the matter.

“We’re going to look into the allegations and try to determine what is true,” the restaurant’s lawyer, Gary Lincenberg, would only say. “Until we have done that, I don’t have any other comment.”

On the Hump’s website, bosses describe the omakase menu as a “culinary adventure…created for you unlike any that you have previously experienced!”

It adds: “If you are truly adventurous (and have NO allergic or religious restrictions), we request that you leave yourself in our hands.”

Given there are only an estimated 54,000 Sei whales left in the world, it's a pity it didn’t mention ethical and ecological reasons as well.

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