Whale of a Story

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Hands down, there was one story in the local news this week that had every quality the LA media adores.

It had the element of crime, that's always important, especially for TV.

A Hollywood angle, check, that's good too. Real good.

Politics, that'll work, as long as it's not boring or about a difficult issue, like health care.

Food – there's nothing hotter on the LA cultural scene right now than food.

And of course, the environment. Reporters and their editors love environment stories. They often come neatly wrapped by interest groups and activist organizations willing to supply the good guy-bad guy narrative that makes for an easy-to-tell story.

Finally, this story had animals. It's no accident that the LA Times lets several of their most animal-loving reporters feed a pets blog.

Or that the mayor's girlfriend is allowed by KTLA to proudly tout herself as a friend of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

There's just no media downside when it comes to animals. Especially beloved species.

And so we have the tale of the whale sushi.

This story's timeline, as so many in LA do, intersects with the Oscars ceremony held last weekend at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

On Sunday night, the documentary The Cove won an Oscar for exposing the bloody slaughter of dolphins in Japan.

Just a few hours later, on Monday morning, the New York Times had a front-page story on the filmmakers of The Cove running a successful sting at The Hump, a Santa Monica restaurant that serves exotic sushi.

The film's director of clandestine operations – and what a great title that is -- had heard from music industry sources that The Hump served whale sushi. It may be a delicacy for some Japanese, but whale is banned here by federal law.

Beginning in October, and continuing in the weeks leading up to the Oscars, some vegan members of The Cove crew dined at the Hump and videotaped what they saw.

They also removed specimens for lab testing that were confirmed as being from an endangered species of whale.

During one of the sting operations, Louie Psihoyos, the photographer and filmmaker who directed The Cove, was stationed in a car outside coordinating his operatives inside via text message.

It all made for a great read.

Reporter Jennifer Steinhauer, the New York Times bureau chief in Los Angeles, even had a spokesman for the US Attorney saying the feds expected to move fast to make their case.

With all of these elements in play, the story only got better through the week.

Mark Gold, the president of Heal the Bay, heard the story Monday morning from his wife. He emailed members of the Santa Monica City Council, and the city launched an investigation to see if The Hump's business license or lease at Santa Monica Airport could be terminated.

Gold also blogged -- and noted that his brother, the LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold who has been known to eat whale, is not a fan of the restaurant. Too gimmicky, he says.

Because the story broke in the New York Times, the LA Times was cool to it the first few days. Not so other media. Reporters and camera crews rushed to The Hump, bumping into each other and tweeting their excitement.

The feds charged the Hump's owner and chef with a misdemeanor count each of selling an endangered marine species, based in part on what was found under a federal search warrant served last Friday.

By the end of the week, the story's tidal flow began, inevitably, to recede.

The Hump's lawyer said the restaurant accepts responsibility and will pay the fine.

For the media, well, onward to the next good story.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.