A Massachusetts antique dealer has been sentenced to nearly three years for illegally buying tusks of narwhals, a mammal dubbed the unicorn of the sea, and teeth of nearly extinct sperm whales.
David Place, owner of the Manor House Antiques Cooperative will spend 33 months in prison for importing the teeth and tusks from Ukraine and selling the items at his Nantucket store and online, through ebay.
Place was convicted last November of eight counts including conspiracy and violations to the Lacey Act, a law against selling plants and animals illegally taken from the the wild that was enacted in 1900 and still in effect today.
Prosecutors said the antique dealer worked with a Ukrainian, Andrei Mikhalyov, to traffick teeth and tusks worth between $200,000 and $400,000. It is unlwful to import such items without permits and declarations to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Mikhalyov has been deported after serving nine months in prison. He had pleaded guilty to charges related to the illegal trafficking.
Narwhals are listed as threatened under the the U.S. Endangered Species Act and as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The animal is hunted for its skin, meat and ivory tusk, which grow out of the center of its head.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, narwhals are among species most vulnerable to climate change. The animal lives its whole life in the Artic, where changes in temperature quickly reduce or increase ice packs.
Such changes make the narwhal, which dives as deep as 1,500 meters to eat Arctic cod, Greenland halibut, shrimp and squid, susceptible to decreasing food when open water turns to ice.
When temperatures rise, narwhals can also become trapped beneath ice, preventing them from surfacing to breathe.
In other areas of the Artic where temperatures have risen and reduced sea ice, such as Hudson Bay, narwhals are in danger of increasing numbers of killer whales, its main predator.
Sperm whales are more in at risk of extinction than narwhals. The animal is listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and as vulnerable by the IUCN.
The animal in the classic novel “Moby Dick,” sperm whales were commerciallly hunted for oil for two centuries until 1987. The animals live in groups called pods and communicate by making patterned clicks.