Once again armed with hidden video cameras and tiny microphones, the team behind the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove orchestrated a sting operation in one of California's most highly regarded sushi destinations — a restaurant called the Hump — while in Los Angeles to receive their Academy Award, according to the New York Times.
The so-called "sushi sting", which involved many of the same James Bond-like undercover hijinks featured in the film, actually began last October when the documentary's associate producer, Charles Hambleton, heard from friends that the Hump was serving illegal whale meat — a shocking allegation, even in sushi-loving Tinseltown where unusual fish imported from Japan can be commonplace menu items. Selling marine mammal meat is illegal according to U.S. federal law and can be punished with a fine up to $20,000 and a year in prison.
Since Hambleton knew the whole crew would be in town for the Academy Awards, it only made sense to plan the operation for that same week. And of course, Hambleton needed time to build specialized hidden cameras for the operation too.
On Feb. 28, just a week before the filmmakers stood on the stage at the Oscar's to accept their award, two animal activist associates wearing cameras and microphones sat down at the Hump and ordered a session of omakase, a sushi meal for which the chef picks all the dishes. Sure enough, the video clearly shows them being served thick, pink slices of meat — which the waitress unambiguously describes as "whale."
After feigning interest and covertly stashing the meat in Ziploc bags, the activists walked out with their evidence. Samples were then sent to the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, confirming that the meat was indeed from a whale. Worse yet, DNA from the samples indicated more specifically that the animal was a Sei whale, an endangered species. "I’ve been doing this for years," said professor Scott Baker, who performed the tests. "I was pretty shocked."
After Baker forwarded his findings to the United States attorney in Los Angeles, further investigations revealed an assemblage of shady smuggling practices occurring at the Hump, including the discovery that the restaurant's chefs likely obtained their whale meat from a mysterious Mercedes parked behind the restaurant.
Law officials entered the Hump last Friday serving search warrants, and they said charges would be brought against the restaurant for violating federal laws against selling marine mammals.
"This isn’t just about saving whales," said Louie Psihoyos, the director of The Cove. "But about saving the planet."
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