Thursday, April 1, 2010

Busting the LA Sushi Restaurant Serving Whale Meat

By Crystal Galbraith

While “The Cove” movie was in theaters this past summer, I was a Cove Captain for the Save Japan Dolphins Campaign in Los Angeles, facilitating question-and-answer sessions and helping spread the word about the movie and the issue.

While attending the screenings, I met and befriended Associate Producer Charles Hambleton. He informed me one day that there was a sushi restaurant in Santa Monica that was serving whale meat. We then decided to go undercover and try to get samples of the whale meat for testing. The first operation involved a small team of people that included Charles and I.

We called ahead and made a reservation for October 1, 2009, and on that date, a friend of mine and I went to The Hump restaurant to eat dinner. My purse was wired with a hidden camera that had its own audio, but we also had a separate audio device inside the purse. I am vegan; my friend however, is not, so this was definitely a sacrifice for me! We went in and ordered the Omakase, which translates to “it’s up to you” and basically means you put your meal in the hands of the sushi chef. This is usually the most expensive dining experience you can have at a sushi restaurant, and at this particular restaurant it usually costs about $150. We wound up spending quite a bit more.

“Crystal Galbraith tabling for Save Japan Dolphins and The Cove movie in Los Angeles.”

We went in and sat down, and I placed my purse on the table in order to get a shot of the plate of whale when they brought it out. We then began eating; they brought us out plate after plate of high quality sashimi. We told them that we like the most exotic items and that we would try anything, along with eating as much as we possibly could so that they could see we were willing to spend a lot of money. Over the course of about 3 hours of eating, they kept asking us if we were full and how two petit girls could eat so much food, but we just said it was so good that we couldn’t stop.

We then asked for the whale, which we ordered in Japanese, ‘kujira’. The waitress said she needed to ask the chef if they had it -- we think she was really asking the chef it he thought he could trust us. She came back and told us that they only give this to their VIP customers and that they don’t just give it to anyone, but that they were willing to serve it to us. At this point our bill was probably at about $650, which is significantly more than most people spend on Omakase at The Hump.

This was the point where I felt the most nervous; I was pretty shocked that they even agreed to serve it to us having never seen us there before this evening. Since I had the camera and audio equipment in my purse, I had my friend’s purse on the chair next to me and inside it there were Ziploc bags and paper napkins so that I could discreetly take samples. After the waitress brought out the plate of whale sashimi, the chefs and waiters were watching us; I think just to see if we liked it, not because they were suspicious. After we both took a piece and ate it, they went back to whatever they were doing and stopped watching. I told my friend to touch her leg to mine under the table when they weren’t looking and then to take her leg away when they looked so that I would know when it was safe to sneak the samples. She complied, and, while they weren’t looking, I put a couple pieces of whale sashimi on a paper napkin next to my plate and then grabbed it and stuffed it into the Ziploc bag in her purse that was next to me on the chair.

After we finished eating, we paid the bill, which came to about $900, and left the restaurant. Charles and our team were in a car in the parking lot, waiting with ice packs to preserve the whale meat. We then sent the samples off to Dr. Scott Baker for testing, and the results came back stating that it was Sei whale, an endangered species that Japan still hunts as part of its so-called “scientific” program. This is when we brought in Louie Psihoyos of Oceanic Preservation Society and decided to also bring in federal agents.

“Crystal Galbraith (left) with The Cove’s Louie and Vicki Psihoyos at the Genesis Awards, March 2010.”

We did the same exact thing two more times in February with Louie and the crew in the car parking lot listening on a transmitter to everything going on. I would also use my phone to communicate with Louie via text message. The federal agents were also in the parking lot waiting in another car and, during those next two trips, we came out with the evidence and passed it along to the feds. They then got it tested by a federal government lab and also concluded that it was Sei whale meat.

Now The Hump restaurant has closed with an online apology about serving endangered whale meat in violation of US federal law. We understand OPS and other groups are looking at other potential sushi restaurants that may be selling illegal whale meat.

This goes to show what just a few people can do to make a real difference!

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