The Hump restaurant at the Santa Monica Airport allegedly sold whale sushi to customers on at least three occasions, going back to last October.
The parent company of The Hump, Typhoon Restaurant Inc., and chef Kiyoshiro Yamamoto of Culver City, were charged Wednesday.
The whale involved is an endangered species, and the sale of any whale meat is prohibited in the U.S.
The criminal complaint follows a search warrant carried out at the restaurant last Friday night.
The documentary filmmakers who won an Oscar on Sunday for their film "The Cove" about the hunting of dolphins in a small Japanese fishing village set their sights on the local hot spot. They say that they caught the swanky Santa Monica restaurant illegally serving whale meat.
The filmmakers went undercover 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.
The violation is punishable by a year in prison and a $20,000 fine.
CNS contributed to this report.