Marine Biologist Faces 20 Years For Feeding Whales

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

Renowned marine biologist Nancy Black faces 20 years in prison and a half million dollars in fines for allegedly unlawfully feeding killer whales. And no,she didn’t feed them people. Apparently,Black, who’s been featured on PBS, Animal Planet, and National Geographic has been charged with running afoul of  the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  The charges stem from a 2005 research trip in which Black filmed a gray humpback whale and a pack of killer whales swimming nearby. She’s accused of feeding the killer whales and then altering a video of the “crime.” Here’s her lawyer’s account of the heinous attack on the environment.

“She was out whale-watching with a full complement of passengers and spotted a humpback whale. It was a friendly whale, which loves to come up close to a boat and breach and frolic,” said Black’s attorney Lawrence Biegel. “There’s video of this, which she turned over, of this whale doing exactly that, literally going from one side of the boat to another.”

 Biegel says the killer whales were feeding off of gray whale blubber already in the ocean. “In the specific incident in question, Ms. Black used an underwater camera and filmed the eating habits of killer whales who were feeding off free-floating pieces of blubber from a gray whale that had been killed by a pack of killer whales.”

The trip is under scrutiny from state authorities, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the US Department of Justice. No word yet on whether the Boy Scouts or Sheriff Taylor from Mayberry have gotten involved.

Black is a former NOAA employee with an undisputed love for the environment and particularly whales. She hosts popular whale watching tours for students and environmentalists under the auspices of the Monterey (Calif.) Bay Whale Watch Tours.

Oh, by the way, she had a federally issued permit for the research trip in 2005.

When you consider not a single person from British Petroleum spent a day in the pokey or was even charged for the 2010 environmental meltdown that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico after the oil derrick disaster, you have to wonder about the notion of “equal justice under law,” and just who sets priorities for the publicly appointed guardians of the eco-system.

But then again our defendant’s  last name is not BP, Halibuton, or Transocean. According to the government it’s just “Black.”

Source: Yahoo

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

35 thoughts on “Marine Biologist Faces 20 Years For Feeding Whales”

  1. And now it’s not available again.

    Available. Not Available. Available. Not Available.

    MOM, the WSJ is trolling me again, make htem stop!

  2. Not sure why, but the article appears to be available (at the moment) here:

    For Feds, ‘Lying’ Is a Handy Charge

    MONTEREY, Calif.—When federal prosecutors can’t muster enough evidence to bring charges against a person suspected of a crime, they can still use a controversial law to get a conviction anyway: They charge the person with lying.

    The law against lying—known in legal circles simply as “1001”—makes it a crime to knowingly make a material false statement in matters of federal jurisdiction. Critics across the political spectrum argue that 1001, a widely used statute in the federal criminal code, is open to abuse. It is charged hundreds of times a year, according to court records and interviews with lawyers and legal scholars.Nancy Black, a marine biologist and operator of whale-watching boats, recently became ensnared by 1001. When one of her boat captains whistled at a humpback whale that approached the boat a few years ago, regulators investigated whether the incident constituted harassment of a whale, which is illegal.

    This past January, Ms. Black was charged in the case—not with whale harassment, but with lying about the incident. She also faces a charge of illegally altering a video of the whale encounter, as well as unrelated allegations involving whale blubber. Together, the charges carry up to 20 years in prison.

    She denies all wrongdoing, including lying. “I wasn’t charged with anything about the dealings with the humpback,” says Ms. Black, 49 years old. “So why would they charge me with lying about it? It makes no sense.”

    A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.The law against lying, officially Title 18, section 1001 of the United States Code, is “a bread-and-butter” statute for Justice Department prosecutors, says Thomas O’Brien, the former U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles. The law’s breadth makes it useful for nabbing wrongdoers, particularly in cases where suspected crimes are complex and tough to prove, he says.

    For instance, supporters of 1001 say, the law can be useful in financial or accounting-fraud cases where catching a suspect in a lie that could carry a prison sentence can be a powerful tool for enlisting that person’s cooperation in unraveling the broader crime.

    As the U.S. federal criminal code has grown increasingly large and complicated, critics from the left and right alike argue it is becoming too easy for Americans to unwittingly commit crimes.

    Nobody argues that telling a falsehood to Uncle Sam is either wise or admirable, but some say 1001 is overly broad. “There is no statute out there that’s more pernicious,” says Stephen Saltzburg, a former senior Justice Department official and now a law professor at George Washington University.

    He says the law is so vague that harmless misstatements can be turned into federal felonies. A person can be charged even if the lie didn’t really fool anyone, or if the person didn’t know the criminal consequences of fibbing, some critics point out.

    By contrast, Mr. O’Brien says that in his experience local authorities rarely prosecute someone for lying, and when they do it is generally treated as a misdemeanor

    While 1001 helps nab guilty parties, it can also be a trap “for innocent people to fall into,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R., Texas), in an interview. Rep. Gohmert, a critic of the federal justice system’s expansion, said he hopes to put new limits on the statute in a criminal-reform bill pending in the House.

    Statute 1001’s precursor, the False Claims Act of 1863, had a relatively narrow focus: It was intended to punish contractors and suppliers who were defrauding the government during the Civil War.

    Over the next 135 years, Congress significantly increased the reach of federal law regarding falsehoods. By 1998, courts around the country carved out an exception—known as the “exculpatory no”—aimed at blocking prosecution of a person who denied (falsely) being involved in wrongdoing. The exception was at least partly inspired by the Constitution’s protection against self-incrimination.

    But in 1998, the Supreme Court threw out the exculpatory no, saying the law as written by Congress didn’t allow for an exception. While some false-statement prosecutions might seem “harsh,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “courts may not create their own limitations on legislation, no matter how alluring the policy arguments for doing so.”

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a separate opinion, worried about “the extraordinary authority Congress, perhaps unwittingly, has conferred on prosecutors to manufacture crimes” out of false statements.


  3. The Wall Street Journal has a new story about this detailing what they appear to consider egregious abuses by the prosecutors, first by accusing her (by way of her captain) of harassing whales by whistling, second by going Martha Stewart on her and not being satisfied with the video she turned over, but accusing her of editing it, maliciously, to deceive them, instead of accepting her admission and explanation that she turned over what they asked of her, the specific video of the captain whistling.

    I say “appear” because the majority of the article is behind a pay wall, but you can read Amy Alkon’s excerpt here:

    Meet The Legally Allowed Mob: Your Government

    John R. Emshwiller and Gary Fields write for the WSJ about a woman’s story I’ve blogged about before — marine biologist and whale-watching boat operator Nancy Black, who was charged with lying to the feds about…”whale harassment.”

    When federal prosecutors can’t muster enough evidence to bring charges against a person suspected of a crime, they can still use a controversial law to get a conviction anyway: They charge the person with lying.
    The law against lying–known in legal circles simply as “1001”–makes it a crime to knowingly make a material false statement in matters of federal jurisdiction. Critics across the political spectrum argue that 1001, a widely used statute in the federal criminal code, is open to abuse. It is charged hundreds of times a year, according to court records and interviews with lawyers and legal scholars.

    …The trouble began in October 2005. During a whale-watching trip, a humpback whale approached one of her boats. The captain began whistling, hoping the noise might keep the creature from leaving, according to Ms. Black. A crewman on her other boat, which Ms. Black was captaining nearby, also urged passengers to make noise, she says. (Neither the captain nor the crewman faces charges.)

    The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 outlaws “harassment” of whales that could disrupt their behavioral patterns or injure them. Ms. Black says she doesn’t believe the whistling, or the ships’ closeness to the whales, violated the rules, particularly since the creature had approached on its own.

    Ms. Black says she considered the whistling “unprofessional” and told her employees not to do it again. She says the then-wife of her boat captain then went to the government to find out if there was anything wrong with whistling on the boat. The now former captain declined to comment. His ex-wife couldn’t be reached for comment…. more at the link

  4. There are a bunch of factual errors in the article (e.g. there is no such thing as a gray humpback whale) and the comments, though the gist of the story that this is an unnecessary and unwarranted prosecution is correct. The indictment apparently refers to two separate incidents a year apart. One is the video of the humpback close to the boat talked about by her attorney. The other involves a piece of blubber from a gray whale calf that had just been killed by orcas (= killer whales). The best factual account appears in an article yesterday in the Monterey Herald (

  5. I agree with Roland Darby… Why hasn’t Martha Stewart been charged? Clearly the DA is shielding Martha on this one!

  6. How does one feed a pod of orcas? Funnel a school of salmon into their maws? Lead a raft of sea lions to their death? Bring a few hundred tons of smelt on the boat?

    The article(s) are at best non-descriptive of how this was accomplished yet suggest that the whale blubber the orca pod fed on was the same grey whale that visited the boat, swimming from one side to the other.

    There are a lot of details missing in the written accounts which is not surprising as the incident supposedly occured in 2005.

    Something is amiss.

  7. I have to echo the question posed earlier. Perhaps her work as an environmentalist has somehow threatened the bankers and investors who don’t want her work to go forward.

    This story made me think of Diane Fossey, who was murdered as a result of her work trying to protect gorillas. They will stop at nothing to make money.

  8. Basic facts of case:

    Famed marine biologist being prosecuted for violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act by purportedly feeding killer whales.

    Juxtaposed with BP oil spill which killed many marine mammals and messed
    up the Gulf Coast environmentally.

    Biologist faces 20 year jail term.

    BP hasn’t even fully paid for the cost of damages inflicted, not to mention that there was no criminal prosecution.

    This was Mark’s point, which was a valid one. Anon, however, does not like guest bloggers by his/her own admission and so pounced on the least important facts in the case, in the interest of getting her/his rocks off. Poor
    form, badly reasoned and purposeless except as an excuse to discharge bile.

  9. angrymanspeaks,

    anon goes after 1 or 2 guest bloggers almost every week. It’s his thing and some of us place private bets on who will get the “anon rectal orifice” award on Sunday morning.

    mespo got off pretty easy … usually Elaine and Mike S get the harshest treatment.


  10. “I suspect someone had a political agenda against Black.” (bettykath)

    That is highly plausible and should be thoroughly investigated.

  11. I’m not sure there is equal justice at all. When the rich don’t get charged and the poor get charged even if there is no crime, where’s the justice either way? I suspect someone had a political agenda against Black. Just shows my cynicism where our guvm’nt is concerned.

Comments are closed.