Connecticut resident John Bell reportedly smuggled and sold thousands of dollars' worth of sperm whale teeth into the United States between 2004 and 2008. Bell pleads guilty to charges of illegal trafficking.
Illegal Whale Teeth Trafficking
On Wednesday, June 6, John “Jake” Bell of Lakeville, Connecticut pleaded guilty to illegal trafficking of teeth from endangered sperm whales over a decade after the crimes. Bell admitted that while he was in Ukraine in 2004, he sold $11,600 worth of sperm whale teeth to a “co-conspirator” in Nantucket, Massachusetts. The 34 teeth were shipped from Ukraine to Connecticut where the items were claimed.
The indictment further states that Bell, who is an artist, smuggled over 49 pounds of sperm whale teeth into the United States between July 2005 and June 2006, some of which he carved and sold to customers, and the others he sold uncarved. He also sold nine carved teeth to customers in the United States from June 2007 until April 2008.
The items he smuggled and sold between 2005 and 2006 were valued at $26,000, whereas the nine carved teeth he sold between 2007 and 2008 were valued at $20,300.
Bell pleaded guilty to one count of wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act, whereas his “co-conspirator” from the 2004 transaction was convicted in 2010 and was sentenced to 33 months in prison for the crime.
“OLE is dedicated to enforcing those laws and seeing that those who violate them are held accountable for their illegal actions,” said Director James Landon of the NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE).
Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales, and they may be found in deep waters all around the world, from the Antarctic to the waters near the equator. In fact, they have the widest distribution of all marine mammal species in the planet.
Their name actually comes from the waxy substance that can be found in their heads, spermaceti, which is also used in oil lamps, candles, and lubricants.
Between 1800 and 1987, sperm whales were one of the main targets of the commercial whaling industry, which lead to the significant decrease in their population worldwide. Now, major threats to sperm whale population include vessel strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, ocean noise that disturb important activities and even cause hearing loss, oil spills and other water contaminants, marine debris which they may mistake for prey, and climate change.
Sperm whales are considered as endangered in the Endangered Species Act, and depleted in the Marine Mammal Protection Act.