Protestors march against the sushi restaurant The Hump and it's illegal sale of whale meat on Friday. Owners of The Hump and its sister restaurant Typhoon have admitted to serving Sei whale, an endangered species. The owners and a chef are facing criminal charges. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SM AIRPORT — Owners of sushi restaurant The Hump admit to selling customers banned whale meat, issuing an apology on their Web site.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed misdemeanor charges Wednesday against the owners of The Hump and its sister restaurant Typhoon, as well as a sushi chef, charging them with violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act by serving on at least three occasions Sei whale, an endangered species and the third largest baleen whale in the oceans.

If convicted, the restaurant team faces a fine of $200,000, while the chef faces a $100,000 fine. All parties could serve a year in federal prison, according to federal prosecutors.

“The charge against the restaurant is true: The Hump served whale meat to customers looking to eat what in Japan is widely served as a delicacy,” The Hump’s owners said in a statement on the restaurant’s Web site, www.thehump.biz. “In serving this meat, The Hump ignored its responsibilities to help save endangered whales from extinction and failed to support the world community in its uphill fight to protect all endangered species.

“While The Hump cannot undo the damage it caused, it will put into place procedures to ensure that it strictly complies with the laws and becomes a good corporate citizen. We sincerely apologize. We pledge to work hard to re-earn the trust of the public and respect of our customers.”

Federal prosecutors were tipped off by the team behind the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” which went undercover using tiny microphones and cameras to record the serving of whale at The Hump. Animal activists collected food samples, which were tested and found to be Sei whale. Receipts received also had the word “whale” written on them, federal prosecutors said.

With that evidence in hand, prosecutors served a search warrant Friday, March 5, to collect animal parts and records.

City officials, who own the space where The Hump and Typhoon are located, are looking into whether or not they can evict The Hump for engaging in illegal activity. A report from the City Attorney’s Office is expected to be released before the March 23 City Council meeting. City Hall receives over $40,000 a year in base rent from The Hump and Typhoon restaurants, as well as a percentage of gross receipts.

Since The Hump was folded into Typhoon’s lease, it is unclear what would happen to both restaurants now that the owners have admitted guilt.

Several council members expressed outrage upon learning The Hump was charged with selling the endangered species. Santa Monica has a history of protecting wildlife and natural habitats, promoting itself as a “green” city.

A protest was held Friday at the Santa Monica Airport where The Hump is located. Representatives from the Companion Animal Protection, the Ocean Preservation and Sea Shepherd societies arranged the protest, calling on all restaurants to cease from serving endangered whale meat and called on the Japanese government to stop its illegal slaughter of protected marine life. Whale meat can often be found in Japanese markets.

Whales are caught under a controversial research program that activists say is a front for commercial whaling.

“The Japanese are exporting this cruel practice to the United States and we will not tolerate it,” said Carole Raphaelle Davis with the Companion Animal Protection Society. “Whale wars have reached our shores here in L.A. and this is an international scandal.”

Representatives from the Japanese Consulate in Downtown Los Angeles could not be reached for comment.

According to international environmental watchdog Greenpeace, Japanese adults rarely eat whale since it is considered a luxury food. Research on Greenpeace’s Web site shows that 95 percent of Japanese never or rarely eat whale and that 69 percent do not support whaling in the Southern Ocean. Other studies have shown that the consumption of whale meat has dropped considerably, forcing the whaling industry to place thousands of tons of whale meat in freezers because it could not be sold.

Japan has hunted whales for hundreds of years, and during the lean postwar years, whale was the chief source of protein because Japan could not afford pork or beef. Whale was often served to children in schools. It is now seen as a luxury food item because of the increase in cost.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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