Two U.S. men accused of participating in a ring that smuggled narwhal tusks from Canada into Maine have pleaded not guilty.
Andrew Zarauskas, of Union, N.J., and Jay Conrad, of Lakeland, Tenn., face 29 smuggling and money laundering charges each. They were free on bond Friday after entering their pleas in federal court in Bangor.
Narwhals grow to about 15 feet in length and are known as the unicorns of the sea for their spiral, ivory tusks that can grow longer than 8 feet. The tusks can sell for thousands of dollars each and have been thought to have supernatural powers, but it's illegal to import them into the U.S.
The New York Times reported that these tusks can fetch $30,000. The mammals are largely protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the report said.
"The beautiful thing about a narwhal tusk is that twisting, they’re very unique," David Boone, an ivory dealer, told the paper.
These whales are found in the Canadian Arctic and the Canadian government allows hunters to kill about 400 a year, the report said.
Prosecutors say two Canadian men smuggled the tusks across the border in a secret compartment in a trailer. Those two men were charged in Canada, while their alleged buyers, Zarauskas and Conrad, were charged in U.S. District Court.
If convicted, Zarauskas and Conrad both face up to 20 years in prison and a fine, The Times reported.