California Biologist Charged With Feeding Killer Whales
January 6, 2012

California Biologist Charged With Feeding Killer Whales

A California marine biologist and whale-watching tour operator has been charged with violating a federal law that prohibits disturbing killer whales in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

The Associated Press reports that on Wednesday, charges were brought against Nancy Black saying that she had violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which, among other things, makes it illegal to feed marine mammals such as dolphins, sea lions and whales.

Ms. Black, who owns and operates Monterey Bay Whale Watch, was indicted in a San Jose federal court on Wednesday. The indictment includes four counts of breaking federal laws between 2004 and 2005.

Perhaps even more serious should she be found guilty are charges that she obstructed the investigation by tampering with evidence. Prosecutors have alleged that Ms. Black modified a potentially incriminating video from 2005 depicting illegal contact with a humpback whale and that she then lied to federal investigators about it.

Ms. Black´s attorney, Lawrence Biegel, has maintained that the defendant broke no laws when she and her crew filmed a killer whale feeding on the floating blubber of a gray whale calf.  Calling the indictment “wholly unjustified”, Mr. Biegel insists that Black and her assistants had simply secured the blubber close to their research vessel in order to obtain up-close underwater footage of killer whale feeding behavior and that they broke no laws while doing it.

Ms. Black´s attorney has also pointed out that his client is in possession of a special federal permit for conducting research. He also noted that the video currently under scrutiny was even presented to Ms. Black´s fellow scientists at a research conference in Norway, none of whom noted any potentially harmful or illegal activity.

Ms. Black, who has a master´s degree in marine science, has enjoyed something of a local celebrity status in the Monterey Bay area, with she and her two vessels appearing frequently on both local and national media programs.

The investigation was instigated by the federally sponsored National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2006, and investigators have been in more or less constant negotiations with Ms. Black ever since.

The Monterey Bay Whale Watch website calls Black an expert in the biology of California´s killer whale population. For years, Ms. Black has worked on cataloging, identifying and documenting the behavior of killer whales off the California coast.


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