Oscar Winning Producers Help Expose Illegal Sale of Whale Meat

A hip Los Angeles restaurant has been busted by the team behind the Academy Award-winning documentary "The Cove" for allegedly serving endangered whale meat.

Federal charges have been filed against the high-end Santa Monica sushi restaurant The Hump, which has admitted the wrongdoing through a spokesman. In a statement, the restaurant's lawyer said it "accepts responsibility for the wrongdoing charged by the U.S. attorney."

The thought is revolting to most Americans: people willing to pay top dollar to consume endangered animals.

Federal officials said the swanky sushi restaurant that caters to Hollywood's elite was selling endangered sei whale as sushi. They say the restaurant sold it to the filmmakers as part of a $642 dollar dinner tab.

Three days before taking the best documentary feature Oscar for "The Cove," which exposed the slaughter of 2,000 dolphins a year in a Japanese fishing town, the documentary team was working with the feds. After hearing that the restaurant was selling sei whale, they initiated a sting operation.

The documentary's associate producer, Charles Hambleton, crafted the tiny cameras used to film the sting.

After capturing the serving of whale meat on their hidden cameras, the team left with samples of the meat and a receipt that, according to court documents, had "whale and horse" handwritten on it.

Authorities said the samples were sent to a DNA testing lab that determined the samples were, in fact, sei whale, the third largest creatures in the world.

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

Selling Whale Meat is Illegal

Possessing or selling any whale meat is illegal in the United states, punishable by a year in jail and a $200,000 fine.

"It was more exciting busting this restaurant than winning the Oscar," said director Louie Psihoyos. "This isn't about saving whales, it's about saving the planet."

The makers of "The Cove" said one of their goals is to bring the killing of marine mammals to the attention of the public. The filmmakers used their Oscar acceptance speech to promote a text message campaign for a group that fights against the slaughter of the marine mammals. Within days of the awards ceremony the group's servers almost crashed from the amount of money and traffic flowing in.