Who wouldn’t want to commemorate a highly coveted Academy award win for Best Documentary by crowning a glorious evening with a tasty bit of sushi in a luxe restaurant? For the victorious filmmakers of this year’s winning expose on the Japanese dolphin industry, they’d be easily deserving of such a culinary indulgence, but instead of basking in the glow of their win for “The Cove”, they instead chose to engage in a sushi sting operation that dated as far back as October 2009. Clearly, a documentarian’s work is never done.
Launched in cooperation with federal law enforcement officials, associate producer Charles Hambleton first heard suspicious rumblings that whale was being served up at a swanky eatery called The Hump and decided to appoint himself as an undercover fact finder. Outfitting two of his fellow colleagues (and equally ardent animal activists) with a tiny camera to capture the blow-by-blow of their chef-selected omakase meal on two separate occasions, the squeamish diners covertly tucked what was described as “whale” into Ziplock bags for later DNA tissue analysis by the associate director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, Scott Baker.
As it turns out, the meat was indeed from the IUCN Red Listed Sei Whale which, by last count, had worldwide numbers of roughly 54,000 in 2006. The subject of massive global commercial whaling efforts during the latter end of the 19th and 20th centuries, the endangered acquatic mammal — which can reach 66 feet in length and weigh a hefty 45 tons — is now for the most part internationally protected despite limited allowances for Japan and Iceland. In spite of this fact, it is somewhat of an unspoken rule that whale flesh is served in high-end Japanese sushi restaurants. The protein source is considered to be among the most reliable and stable food sources in that country (despite containing very high levels of toxic methyl mercury) but in America? Even Baker admitted to being shocked.
In the meantime, the Hump restaurant has no comment other than what their attorney said in a recent telephone interview: “We’re going to look into the allegations and try to determine what is true.” The result of these covert operations is still playing out, but just last week, federal officials took the information gathered thus far so seriously that they arrived at the Hump in person to locate marine mammal parts and any other documentation they could secure. If the restaurant is found officially guilty of possessing or selling any creature named under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the guilty party will be subject to a $20,000 fine or one year in the slammer. Interestingly, they were charging their clientele $60 a pop for thick pink slices of something clearly identified as whale, so it will be interesting to see how they squirm out of this one.