Airports can be very depressing places. Loved ones being carted thousands of miles away; lonely businessmen idling away layovers at the bar; a pervasive sense of uneasiness with ticking clocks and stoic security people. Multiply the level of shittiness by a thousand if we're talking about a non-major airport with lackluster dining options and pathetic biplanes that look like they're about to fracture into a million pieces on takeoff.
You know what would make a meal at a sterile, joyless municipal airport even more depressing? Eating the flesh of a sentient, endangered animal that was probably slaughtered by a profit-hungry poacher hoping to sell its carcass on the black market regardless of the impacts on the ecosystem or the ever-shrinking diversity of global species.
On Monday, Typhoon Restaurant Co. and Brian Vidor—parent company and owner, respectively, of The Hump, a now-defunct restaurant once housed in Santa Monica Municipal Airport—pled guilty to unlawful sale of a marine mammal after they were found to have illegally purchased and served whale meat to undercover investigators in 2009 and 2010. They'll be sentenced early next year.
Wondering how this could be even more depressing? Well, wait, there's more. In 2010, the undercover agents—who were working with US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Customs and Border Protection, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—were sitting at The Hump's sushi bar when Chef Kiyoshiro Yamamoto appeared to go retrieve the plastic-wrapped whale meat from his car. Yes, a whale was likely poached and then left in some guy's trunk in cling wrap in a Los Angeles parking lot for an undetermined period of time before being served at a municipal airport sushi bar. Did we mention that they were charging $600 for eight pieces of whale meat?
The agents were initially tipped off about the restaurant's illegal off-menu item after seeing footage filmed at the restaurant by animal activists and producers of the 2009 documentary The Cove. Though it should be mentioned that if you're trying to be discreet about serving whale meat, naming your seafood restaurant "The Hump" might not be the best way to lay low.
Later that year, the restaurant was inundated with protestors who had caught wind of its whale-serving activities. The restaurant shuttered in March of that year, leaving the following statement on its website: "The Hump hopes that by closing its doors, it will help bring awareness to the detrimental effect that illegal whaling has on the preservation of our ocean ecosystems and species." A little ironic, considering that a few days before, profiting from illegal whaling had sounded A-OK to its chefs and proprietors.
Shady chef Yamamoto and his fellow chef Susumu Ueda pled guilty earlier in 2014 to misdemeanor counts of conspiracy and violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Their supplier, Ginichi Ohira, also pled guilty.
If you're at a municipal airport sushi restaurant, and the chef mutters something to you under his breath about having whale meat, and you're entertaining the idea of spending six Benjamins on it, stop and consider how your life can be better.
Speaking of depressing circumstances under which to purchase and consume whale meat: Although whaling has essentially been eradicated in all but a few countries—Japan, Norway, and Iceland, with some consumption in Greenland and the Faroe Islands as well—it wasn't until 2012 that web giant Amazon banned its sale. Until a successful petition that year garnered more than 200,000 signatures and resulted in a formal ban, items such as whale curry, whale burger, and canned whale stew were still available for purchase from the Japanese version of the site.
If whales are our sentient friends, let's offer them more dignity than being served out of the plastic wrap at a municipal airport restaurant or the packing peanuts of an Amazon box.