Two years ago, a tip came in to Los Angeles authorities reporting that an antique dealer was illegally selling ivory.
To investigate, California Department of Fish and Wildlife agents went to Antonio’s Bella Casa on La Cienega Boulevard in December 2016. At the store, agents discovered what the tip suggested they might find: Two narwhal tusks, 79 and 87 inches long, were on display and for sale, the city attorney said in a news release.
An undercover warden purchased the pair of tusks for $60,000 in January 2017, and now the man who sold them — store owner Anthony James Buccola — has been sentenced in the crime. Buccola was found guilty on criminal charges of selling ivory, city attorney Mike Feuer announced Tuesday.
“Selling ivory is not only illegal, it’s immoral,” Feuer said in a statement, adding that the ivory trade has “devastating consequences that imperil threatened species like the narwhal.”
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Buccola was fined $20,507, and has been sentenced to 36 months of probation and either 200 hours of community service or 20 days in jail, prosecutors said. His company is required to pay the same fine, and also faces a 36-month probation.
Narwhals are rare whales native to Arctic waters off of Greenland, Norway, Russia and Canada. They’re sometimes called “the unicorns of the sea,” according to the World Wildlife Fund. With only 50,000 of the mammals in the world, they are considered “near threatened” and sales of their tusks are restricted in many places, the city attorney said.
In reality, the animals’ spiraled tusks are large teeth up to 10 feet long that stick out of the animals’ bodies and have as many as 10 million nerve endings, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Some narwhals have no tusks. Other have one, and some have two. The tusks are most common on male narwhals.
“California is doing its part to stop trafficking of the world’s land and ocean dwelling wildlife species that have ivory,” David Bess, deputy director and chief of the law enforcement division at the California wildlife department, said in a statement.
Last year, when the city attorney announced charges had been filed in the case, it was the first prosecution under a new state law that bans all ivory sales in California.
“Criminals who are perpetuating the horrific slaughter of elephants, narwhals and other animals are now being prosecuted,” Democratic State Senator Toni Atkins of San Diego, who authored the bill, said in a statement announcing the charges in September 2017.
Atkins said the prosecutions send a message that those involved in the ivory trade “will be brought to justice.”