SANTA BARBARA — Federal agents are investigating reports that a college student tried to illegally hammer off the teeth of a rare sperm whale that washed ashore dead Sunday on a beach in Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara.
"I arrived and this guy had a hammer and was hammering away on the teeth," said Shane Anderson, supervisor of marine operations at the UC Santa Barbara Marine Laboratory. "I explained to him that there was a federal law against doing that and that the specimen was important for science. He didn't want to hear it."
Anderson told the student that if he didn't stop, he was going to take his picture and report him. The student then became so verbally abusive that a Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputy arrested him and cited him for public disturbance, Sheriff's Sgt. Erik Raney said. David Harrison, 20, a UC Santa Barbara student, was released on the spot after being issued a misdemeanor citation, Raney said.
...Joseph Cordaro, who coordinates marine mammal strandings for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said it was extraordinarily rare for a sperm whale to wash ashore in California. The endangered whale typically remains far offshore, he said.
...Roxanna Behtash, special agent with the National Marine Fisheries Service, confirmed that she has begun an investigation into the college student's alleged violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. "It's illegal for someone to go and yank the tooth out of a dead marine mammal," Behtash said. "It's illegal to possess or sell marine mammal parts of any kind, unless you have a permit."
...In this case, the teeth of the whale have been badly damaged, which could compromise the scientific value of removing the jaw, Anderson said. He said the student wasn't very careful in trying to extract the teeth.
"This kid was busting them all up with a hammer," Anderson said. "I guess he wanted them really bad."