It’s not a situation that most Oscar-winning directors might find themselves in: One night clutching the gold statuette, the next day collaborating with the marine conservation unit of the Department of Commerce and the United States attorney. But if you’re Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove, this is probably just exactly the situation you’d hope to find yourself in.
According to a story in The New York Times, the filmmaking team, armed with video cameras and tiny microphones, orchestrated a Hollywood-gone-activist clandestine operation to ferret out what the authorities say is illegal whale meat at one of this town’s most highly regarded sushi destinations.
Much of the sting was conducted last week as the filmmakers gathered for the Academy Awards ceremony, and was coordinated with law enforcement officials. Charges against the restaurant, the Hump, for violating federal laws against selling marine mammals are expected to be brought soon.
The sushi operation began in October, when the documentary’s associate producer, Charles Hambleton, heard on the grapevine that the Hump, a highly rated sushi restaurant next to the runway at the Santa Monica airport, was serving whale.
Mr. Psihoyos’s team contacted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a marine conservation unit of the Department of Commerce, which began its own investigation, eventually looping in the United States attorney in Los Angeles. According to The Times, team members split up between the sushi bar and a restaurant table and ordered sushi and communicated via text message with Mr. Psihoyos, who waited in a car in the parking lot. Mr. Psihoyos served as an electronic envoy between the investigators at the sushi bar, who were witnessing the chopping of fish and whale, and those sitting at a table.
Last week, several federal agents, including one from the Border Patrol and one who speaks Japanese, joined their team. Once again, the chef and wait staff more than once identified the meat as whale, the affidavit said, and it may have been obtained from a Mercedes parked behind the restaurant.
Armed with a search warrant, federal officials on Friday went searching for evidence from the restaurant, including marine mammal parts as well as various records and documents. The possession or sale of marine mammals is a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and can lead to a year in prison and a fine of $20,000.
Mr. Psihoyos, a former photojournalist who heads a nonprofit through which he makes his films, said that environmental action is more motivating to him than awards.
Related: Sign a petition! Help Save Japan’s Dolphins