“Gregory and Nina Logan of Grande Prairie, Alta., are facing 28 charges in New Brunswick in connection with the alleged export of the tusks of the narwhal, a threatened Arctic whale, to customers in the U.S. — a violation of Canadian and American laws shaped by CITES, an international treaty that regulates the commercial trade in animal parts of vulnerable species.
“And in December, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed an indictment alleging that two unnamed Canadians and two U.S. citizens — Andrew Zarauskas of Union, N.J., and Jay Conrad of Lakeland, Tenn. — conspired for close to a decade to transport the valuable whale tusks to U.S. buyers via the Milltown border crossing between St. Stephen, N.B., and Calais, Maine.”
|National Geographic photo|
I have written about several other cases of illegal sales of narwhal tusks, including a Massachusetts antiques dealer who is now in prison for trafficking in tusks and sperm whale teeth and another instance of a New Mexico woman who was caught with seven illegally-obtained tusks. But this latest case appears to have involved much more than quietly selling artifacts in an antique store. This one was a professional smuggling operation that featured the use of a utility trailer modified to conceal the tusks from customs inspections at border crossings.
Illegal tusk sales and smuggling continue to be a problem in Canada and the United States, and the Canadian government has struggled to come up with a plan agreeable to the local narwhal hunting communities to reduce it. Federal regulators have proposed what the National Post described as “a tagging system aimed at easing the tracking of individual tusks by placing a permanent identification label on each object. Inuit stakeholders initially expressed concern that the proposed tagging method could devalue tusks, and negotiations on that issue were expected to yield a new tracking system early this year.” Officials want to implement the new rules, along with a new quota system for hunting narwhals, before the March CITES meeting in Thailand, which could see the U.S. and other countries pushing for a global ban on selling tusks. Currently, tusks can be sold legally from Canada to many other nations, but the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits their transport into the U.S., where collectors will pay as much as $10,000 for high quality tusks.
In 2010, the Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans placed a ban on any export of narwhal tusks from Canada, citing concerns about the affect of climate change on narwhal populations and the officials’ inability to state that narwhal hunting would not have a further detrimental effect on the health of narwhal populations. That ban was lifted in 2012.
As I wrote in this blog two years ago, much as I would like to own a tusk and display it on my living room wall as a remarkable object of natural history, I also don’t want to be part of the reason that narwhal numbers decline in the future. Biologist Kerry Finley told me that as soon as you start putting a price tag on wild animal parts – whether it’s meat, antlers, tusks, gall bladders, or any other part – you put animal populations in jeopardy. That’s something we all should avoid. In the end, I hope we all can agree that a healthy narwhal population is much more important than having another artifact on our mantle.