PORTLAND, Maine — A New Jersey man convicted of illegally trafficking the spear-like tusks of the narwhal, a protected species of arctic whale nicknamed the “unicorn of the ocean,” was sentenced Monday to two years and nine months in prison, officials said.
Andrew Zarauskas, 61, of Union, New Jersey, was found guilty of conspiracy, money laundering and smuggling by a federal jury in Bangor, Maine last February after a multi-year, two-country undercover investigation that spanned from Alaska to New Brunswick, Canada.
Zarauskas will also pay a $7,500 fine and face a three-year supervised release, court officials said.
Federal investigators said Zarauskas bought 33 of the illegally-imported five-to-ten foot (1.5 to 3 meter) long spiral tusks from an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Gregory Logan of New Brunswick, then re-sold them at flea markets for as much as $70 an inch.
Logan, who is awaiting extradition to the United States after conviction on trafficking charges in Canada in 2013, smuggled the hollow tusks across the border in Calais, Maine, then sent them to customers, including Zarauskas, from a FedEx office in Bangor, according to court filings.
The narwhal is protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.
Zarauskas’ attorney Steve Smith, of Bangor, said his client, who had once tipped U.S. investigators off to a sperm whale tooth smuggler in Nantucket, planned to appeal the decision.
“Mr. Zarauskas is a sporadically employed New Jersey construction worker who likes to go to flea markets,” Smith said. “He was never present when a tusk crossed the border, and we think any suggestion that he knew the tusks were illegal is shaky.”
The narwhal’s tusk is a sensitive tooth that projects from the mammal’s upper jaw, connecting its brain to the ocean environment.
Narwhal tusks, once believed to have medicinal powers, were peddled to nobility in Europe as “unicorn horns” by Vikings and other traders, who for centuries hunted narwhals in northern seas.
Today, only the Inuit of northern Canada and Greenland are permitted to hunt narwhals.