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Whale served in Santa Monica restaurant?

March 9, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
The documentary filmmakers who won an Oscar Sunday for their film about the hunting of dolphins in a small Japanese fishing village set their sights on a local hot spot. They say they've caught a swanky Santa Monica restaurant illegally serving whale meat. A federal investigation of the restaurant has been launched.They captured Oscar gold on Sunday. Their film about dolphin hunting in Japan won the Academy Award for best documentary.

Just one week earlier, the team of filmmakers and activists was in Santa Monica investigating the highly rated sushi restaurant The Hump after receiving a tip that the restaurant was serving whale.

"I asked him, I said, 'What is it?' And he said, he kind of actually looked around a little bit and he's like 'it's whale.' He said it's 'whale,'" said one filmmaker.

Seven days before winning an Oscar, the director of "The Cove," Louie Psihoyos was in a car monitoring the second of three sting operations from outside The Hump. The first was in October 2009, the last coming just three days before the Oscars and involving federal agents.

"We recorded surreptitiously using all the same gear we brought it in from the same gear that we used to make the movie 'The Cove,' except we're using it on American soil this time at a sushi restaurant," said Psihoyos.

Last month, The Hump was featured on ABC7 in a story about people who eat unusual foods. Whale was not one of the foods being served.

It is illegal to possess and sell whale meat in the United States.

The U.S. Attorney's office says a criminal investigation is under way.

"Even more so than just eating whale or any other illegal species, it's an endangered species, so it was unbelievable on many levels," said "Cove" producer Charles Hambleton.

"It was actually more exciting busting this restaurant than winning the Oscar," said Psihoyos.

Armed with a warrant, federal officials searched the restaurant on Friday.

Calls to the owner of The Hump were not returned Tuesday.

No charges have been filed but a knowing violation is punishable by a year in prison and a $20,000 fine.