Federal charges were filed Wednesday against a Santa Monica restaurant and its sushi chef for allegedly serving sei whale, an endangered species projected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, the U.S. Attorney's office announced.

The criminal complaint charges the The Hump's parent company, Typhoon Restaurant, Inc., as well as its sushi chef, Kiyoshiro Yamamoto, 45, with the “illegal sale of a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose,” according to the office.

“Someone should not be able to walk into a restaurant and order a plate of an endangered species,” stated United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “Federal law has a variety of provisions, including criminal statutes, intended to protect this planet's threatened natural resources. People should be aware that we will use these criminal statutes where appropriate to protect endangered species, including to ensure that they do not end up part of a meal.”

Federal authorities searched the restaurant Friday and say they discovered that The Hump sold whale meat to diners at least three times since October. Investigators had the meat examined by scientists who tested its DNA and confirmed it was Sei whale.

Astonishingly, customers walked away from dining on the prohibited meat with receipts that stated they had indeed purchased “whale,” the U.S. Attorney's Office states

Law enforcement involved in the investigation, which was sparked by a documentary film crew's undercover inquiry into the whale-meat service, include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish & Game, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“Making illicit products like whale meat available on the market only encourages the illegal hunting of marine mammals such as the Sei whale – a species that is already threatened by extinction,” stated Martina Sagapolu, Acting Special Agent in Charge for the Southwest Division of the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement. “While there is a market for illegal products and delicacies, we are dedicated to finding and prosecuting those who would exploit protected resources that are under threat.”

The charges are misdemeanors, but suspects could receive as much as a year in federal prison if convicted. An initial court appearance is expected in late March or early April.

Anyone with information about whale meat or other endangered species being served elsewhere in the L.A. area was asked to call the NOAA Law Enforcement hotline at 800-853-1964.

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