Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) ran afoul of Alaska's game laws Wednesday when he returned here from a remote fishing camp with a 24-inch walrus tusk that his son, Patrick, 16, picked up at a state game sanctuary.
Kennedy later acknowledged that he had not believed a state biologist at the Walrus Island State Game Sanctuary who told him that nothing could be removed from the preserve, where Kennedy and his party viewed several thousand bull walruses on a beach.
On his return here, Kennedy headed for the nearest federal official, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent Larry Hood, who confirmed that state laws governing the sanctuary are tougher than federal marine mammal laws.
Kennedy surrendered the 6-pound tusk and apologized for the "misunderstanding."
Capt. Wayne Fleek of the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Protection Division said results of a state investigation of the incident would be turned over to the Anchorage district attorney's office. "Removal of anything" from the Round Island preserve, which includes Walrus Island, is a misdemeanor under state law with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, Fleek said.
The state also is investigating allegations that the two float planes used by the Kennedy party buzzed the walrus beach, then landed in a restricted area. Kennedy, saying the view was "spectacular from the air," said his pilot flew over the beach several times before landing but did not harass the walruses.
Kennedy and his party went to the area Monday with Bill Curtis, a long-time Alaska guide and their host during a five-day fishing trip. Curtis had the necessary permit to land and visit the island, Fleek said, but was required to make radio contact with biologists on the island before landing.
Investigators were headed to Round Island today to interview biologists Jim Taggart and Cindy Zabel, who radioed their initial complaint to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Dillingham. Because of rough seas, investigators could not land a float plane and were traveling by boat, a department spokesman said.
Kennedy said his party had lunch with the biologists before hiking to the beach. When Patrick found the tusk, Kennedy said he promised Taggart that the party would check in with federal officials in Anchorage.
Kennedy told the Anchorage Daily News that he believed "from a previous visit up here" that federal law permitted his son to take the tusk as long as it was registered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before being taken across state lines.
"I live on the sea, and always feel a special relationship with the sea and certainly understand the importance of preserving fragile areas," Kennedy told the Daily News.
"Visiting the island has always been a special occasion for people to come to Alaska, and my son Patrick is very interested in animal life," he said.