Law bites whale tooth sellers

An Oak Harbor man is one of two men who pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to charges in connection with an international ring that smuggled sperm whale teeth into the United States, the Department of Justice reported.

Lewis Eisenberg, a 61-year-old Oak Harbor resident, is the former director of the Whalers Village Museum in Maui, Hawaii. Eisenberg purchased sperm whale teeth from the other defendant, Martin Schneider of Pennsylvania.

Eisenberg pleaded guilty to a three-count information for violating the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Protection Act and the Lacey Act, which forbids the import or export of wildlife that is illegally transported or sold.

Mark Oswell, spokesman for the NOAA Fisheries Service, said Eisenberg re-sold the teeth to a man in Hawaii, who in turn sold them to tourists.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Eisenberg faces 10 to 16 months in prison, according to the Justice Department.

Oswell said it’s illegal to buy or sell any part of a marine mammal under the Marine Protection Act. It’s also illegal to buy or sell parts of an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

The sperm whale, an endangered species, is the largest toothed whale, measuring up to 60 feet long. Moby Dick in Herman Melville’s novel is a sperm whale.

Sperm whale teeth are shaped like a cone pointed at one end, and are about eight inches long.

Schneider imported hundreds of sperm whale teeth, worth more than $500,000, from England into the United States starting in 1995, according to the Department of Justice. The teeth came from whaling villages in Russia.

Schneider smuggled the teeth by concealing them amongst other goods and sold them, often to merchants who specialize in designs called “scrimshaw,” which are drawings etched on bone or ivory, the Justice Department reported.

Eisenberg could not be reached for comment.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at or call 675-6611.

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