LOS ANGELES (CN) - An upscale sushi restaurant in Santa Monica served endangered Sei whale meat to undercover environmental activists, federal prosecutors say. Prosecutors charged Typhoon Restaurant, parent company of The Hump restaurant, and chef Kiyoshiro Yamamoto, 45, of Culver City, with illegal sale of a marine mammal product.
Sei whales are listed as an endangered species, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act bans the sale of all whale meat in the United States.
Two undercover activists used a miniature video camera to tape the restaurant serving them whale meat in October. The informants also audio taped themselves buying whale meat at The Hump in February.
A receipt for the activist's $690 chef's choice meal even itemized the whale meat, according to an affidavit provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles. The affidavit adds that Yamamoto may have kept the whale meat in the trunk of his Mercedes prior to serving it.
The restaurant's attorney told the Los Angeles Times that it accepted responsibility for the wrongdoing and would pay a fine and resolve the matter in court.
The informants, one of whom speaks fluent Japanese, smuggled samples of the meat out of the restaurant in a purse. Investigators sent the sushi to Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, who identified the meat as Sei whale. A biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration verified the finding.
The criminal complaint says the investigation began after a tip from the public. The New York Times reported Monday that Charles Hambleton, associate producer of the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove," heard from a friend that Hump might be serving whale meat and fashioned the tiny camera to catch the restaurant in the act. The undercover activists are also part of the team that worked on "The Cove," a powerful documentary about the fight to halt dolphin hunting in Japan, the New York Times reported.
"Someone should not be able to walk into a restaurant and order a plate of an endangered species," U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. said in a statement. "Federal law has a variety of provisions, including criminal statutes, intended to protect this planet's threatened natural resources. People should be aware that we will use these criminal statutes where appropriate to protect endangered species, including to ensure that they do not end up part of a meal."
The charges are misdemeanors and carry a maximum penalty of one year in federal prison and a maximum fine of $100,000 for an individual and $200,000 for an organization.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.