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Three Alaskans pled guilty to violating federal marine mammal protection laws last week after authorities determined that they had traded and sold walrus tusks and polar bear hides despite a ban on such activities.
Glennallen residents Jesse James LeBoeuf, Lorette Audry Sternbach, and Richard Blake Weshenfelder reportedly gave Eskimo villagers on Saint Lawrence Island cigarettes, guns, and snowmobiles in exchange for nearly 500 pounds of walrus tusks and 2 polar bear hides, which they then attempted to sell on the internet.
For preservation purposes, the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the harassing, hunting, capture, killing, or wounding of marine mammals in U.S. waters.
Because Alaskan Natives have historically used marine mammals for food, oil and crafts, they may still hunt the animals for subsistence and the creation of native handicraft articles and clothing, so long as they are not wasteful when doing so.
However, indigenous persons may not sell or trade raw, uncrafted marine mammal parts, and neither may a private, non-Native citizen.
Because LeBoeuf, Sternbach, and Weshenfelder don't appear to be of indigenous decent, and they sold walrus tusks on the internet, they appear to have violated both the possession and sale portions of this law.
It's unclear whether prosecutors will be charging the Eskimos involved with the trade.
In addition to having sold walrus tusks, authorities found an illegal machine gun, marijuana, and coca plants at the home of LeBoeuf and Sternbach, according to the Anchorage Daily News. They are facing between 5 and 9 years in prison.