Although illegal, black market whale trade is on the rise.
In 1986, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) launched an international ban on whale meat. At present, the global population of whales totals 54,000.
The Hump, a sushi restaurant at the Santa Monica Airport, is under federal investigation for selling whale meat.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act protect the sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis). Because of its endangered status, trade in sei whale flesh or other products are prohibited under US law.
Sei whales can reach sixty feet in length and weigh as much as 100,000 pounds when full grown. Sei whales can be found throughout the temperate oceans, but seasonally migrate to the waters of the Arctic and Antarctic. Anyone caught trafficking in sei whale products is subject to up to one year in prison and fines of up to $100,000.
The Oscar-winning documentary film “The Cove” is an expose on illegal dolphin hunting in Japan; members of the research team involved in the film’s production tipped investigators to the restaurant earlier this month. The operation has been going on since October, when on three occasions investigators ordered and were served whale. The owners of The Hump have been fined and face jail time but also have closed the establishment with the reason ‘self-imposed punishment’.
While the restaurant has promised to make a substantial contribution to whale preservation or endangered species groups and owners have apologized to their customer base for their illegal actions, the question remains: If they had not been caught would they still have whale on their menu? Furthermore, how many other restaurants are operating under the same practices as The Hump?
Should the whale consumption ban be lifted because whaling is important to the economies of Japan, Norway and Iceland? These three countries have special scientific permits to catch whales.
The Japanese have been eating whale meat and utilizing whalebones, blubber and oil for more than two thousand years. Their dietary habits, which have been deeply rooted in history, show that whale meat has been a major source of protein in the Japanese diet. Dietary habits are a part of community and local ceremonies, which include serving whale meat in dishes.