Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Marine Biologist Pleads Guilty to Illegally Feeding Whales

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2013 at 4:14 PM

That better not be a fish in your hand, son.
  • That better not be a fish in your hand, son.

When orcas kill and eat a gray whale, they often don't finish the whole thing in a single serving. For up to three days after the feast, chunks of blubber float around the area, drawing hungry orcas like leftovers in the fridge.

Marine biologist Nancy Black and her assistant encountered such a scene on an April, 25 2004, during a research trip in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. They watched as the killer whales munched on the bobbing fat. To ensure they got a lasting and up-close view, Black's team grabbed a piece of blubber, stuck a rope through it, and tossed the now-tethered chunk back into the water. They did this with multiple pieces.

The problem, however, is that feeding whales violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act Regulation. Photos of the feeding eventually reached the U.S. Department of Justice, and Black was arrested. On Tuesday, she pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count.

Black, who was arrested earlier this year, had made a career out of studying whales. She's worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and owned two commercial whale-watching vessels. She's also appeared as an expert on PBS and National Geographic.

On that day in April, she tethered the blubber to the boat so that her team could film the orcas' underwater feeding activity. In her plea agreement, filed in federal court in San Jose, she admitted that she did the same thing a year later.

Black had a permit to study the orcas, which pass Monterey Bay on their 12,000-mile migration from the Bearing Sea to Baja California. She could photograph them, and even collect tissue samples from them. But she could not feed them. Feeding the orcas, prosecutors asserted, could alter their natural behavior.

As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors dropped the significantly more serious charges against Black, which stemmed from an incident a few months after the feeding. In October, after receiving reports that that someone had harassed an endangered humpback whale, a sanctuary official asked Black to hand over a tape of her crew's interaction with the animal. When black turned over the footage, prosecutors alleged, several minutes had been edited out. The charges that she intentionally misled investigators by altering the tape carried a total maximum sentence of 25 years in prison plus $500,000 in fines.

By pleading guilty for the feeding, Black faces a maximum of one year in jail and a $100,000 fine.


  • Pin It

About The Author

Albert Samaha

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook

Slideshows

  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"