Outside editorial: Whale - it's what shouldn't be for dinner

Posted: Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The following editorial appeared in the Los Angeles Times:

When sea-urchin gonads become boring, jaded palates yearn for something more exotic - such as the $60 morsels of endangered whale allegedly served up at a pricey Santa Monica, Calif., sushi joint recently.

If The Hump restaurant wasn't world famous before its run-in with Oscar-winning filmmakers, it's having trouble avoiding the spotlight after the New York Times reported on the investigative exploits of the team that made "The Cove," a documentary about the annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins by a Japanese village.

After receiving a tip, the film's associate director helped organize an undercover video operation, with animal activists playing diners. According to an affidavit by an agent with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the activists slipped the meat into plastic bags and shipped it to a marine mammalogist, who confirmed that the flesh was that of the endangered sei whale, a leviathan that grows to about 50 feet in length.

Federal agents joined the team last week, when the filmmakers were in town for the Academy Awards, for another visit to the restaurant during which whale meat was ordered - and allegedly served. The restaurant apparently didn't bother with code words, either. On both occasions, the server wrote "whale" on the receipt, according to the affidavit.

In ways, the makers of "The Cove" have delivered a uniquely Southern California script, set in a seaside town known for its social consciousness. The plot even includes mysterious allusions to a white Mercedes parked in back of the restaurant from which the alleged whale meat might have come.

Too bad the filmmakers didn't catch any purchasers of whale meat in their micro-documentary. But though it tells us a little bit about decadence in the L.A. area, it actually reveals far more about Japan - which almost certainly would have been the source of any whale meat - and the license it has been given to kill large numbers of marine mammals.

Despite the International Whaling Commission's ban on commercial whaling, Japan continues to hunt whales under the cloak of permitted "scientific research," though evidence has emerged over the years that the meat is used commercially in that country. It is the world's failure to stop this charade that brought the butchered flesh of an endangered animal to our shore.

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