Criminal Case against a whale researcher


This is an interesting read, id be interested to hear your thoughts on this case….

Nancy Black, an American whale researcher and owner/operator of a
whale-watching company in Monterey, California, has been charged with two
felonies and two misdemeanors for activities associated with her whale
research and one commercial whale-watching trip. If convicted, she could
face up to more than 25 years in prison, fines of $700,000, and forfeiture
of her research vessel. She has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. This
case has significant implications for many marine mammalogists in the United
States and those who collaborate with U.S. scientists.

As the leader scientist of the Monterey Bay Cetacean Project, Nancy is best
known for her research on orcas (killer whales), having authored and
co-authored over 20 scientific papers and posters on orcas, including the
first photo-ID catalog of orcas along the coasts of California and Mexico,
the first detailed description of the offshore ecotype of orca, descriptions
of orca ecology in Monterey Bay over a 22 year period, and detailed
descriptions of orca predation on grey whale calves. Earlier research papers
addressed the ecology of Pacific white-sided dolphins in Monterey Bay and
the impacts of gillnetting on harbor porpoise mortality. She has also
collaborated on blue and humpback photo-ID projects with the Cascadia
Research Collective.

In addition to permitted research conducted from an inflatable research
boat, much of Nancy’s research has been conducted using the daily whale
watching cruises of her company as a platform of opportunity, allowing her
to spend many days at sea without the need for external financial support
from grants or contracts. For decades, Nancy has also used her
whale-watching operations to support education at local schools and
fund-raising for a variety of local charities and conservation

On January 4, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted Nancy,
charging her with two felonies carrying maximum penalties of 20  and 5 years
in prison respectively and fines of up to $250,000 per felony, and two
misdemeanors which each carry sentences of up to one year in prison and
$100,000 fines. In addition, the DOJ is demanding forfeiture of Nancy’s
inflatable research boat.  The case is USA v. Nancy Black (case
5.12-cr-00002-EJD) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of
California (San Jose court) and has been assigned to District Judge Edward
J. Davila.  Nancy appeared before the court for the first time on February 2
and entered a plea of “not guilty” to all the charges

The case raises several issues of interest to the broader whale research
community.  In the two misdemeanor counts, Nancy is accused of “feeding”
orcas in violation of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). It is
alleged that while researching orca predation on grey whales, on one
occasion in 2004 and another in 2005, a pod of mammal-eating (“Transient”)
orcas attacked and killed a grey whale calf as the calf and its mother tried
to migrate north across Monterey Bay. On both occasions, it is alleged that
Nancy found pieces of blubber from the dead calf floating in the water and
attached a rope to the blubber so it would not drift too far from her
inflatable so she could get underwater video footage of orcas feeding on the
blubber.  On one of the two occasions, an orca did grab the blubber and swam
off. It was the first time orca feeding, most of which happens under water,
had been captured on video. Nancy showed the videotape of this feeding
behavior at a marine conference in Norway. On the other occasion, it appears
the orcas did not take the piece of blubber. There is no allegation that any
orca was injured or harassed in either event.  A major issue regarding these
charges is what constitutes illegal “feeding” of marine mammals under the

In an interview with a reporter from the Monterey Herald on January 31,
Nancy stated that “she merely positioned a piece of blubber from a dead gray
whale calf closer to her research boat so she could film the orcas that
killed it and were feeding….”I am steadfast that I wasn’t feeding the
whales,” she said.

The two felony charges are related to a six year investigation NOAA
conducted regarding a single whale-watching trip on October 12, 2005, where
one or more humpback whales was seen. Since 2005, Nancy’s whale-watching
company has operated approximately 2,000+ whale-watching trips during the
spring through fall seasons when the  humpback whales are the main
attraction in Monterey Bay.

NOAA has not charged Nancy with taking or harassing any marine mammal on
that trip, or any other trip. In 2005, NOAA law enforcement investigators
requested a videotape of the cruise of October 12. At the time, Nancy was
taking videotapes as souvenirs of the cruise for her passengers, and she
provided this tape to NOAA enforcement.  The four page indictment charges
that (1) Nancy “did knowingly alter and caused the alteration..[of the
videotape] with the intent to impede, obstruct, and influence [a NOAA]
investigation.  and (2) lied to NOAA by stating that the videotape she
provided was the original videotape. Nancy denies both allegations, stating
that she did not edit the tape to deceive NOAA and was clear to NOAA
investigators in explaining to them what she was providing to NOAA.

As reported in the January 31 Monterey Herald interview, “Black… said her
separate research work has all but stopped since 2006, when 15 armed agents
and police stormed into her house with a search warrant. The impact then and
now has been devastating, she said. “This is my whole life. This is not just
some side thing that I do,” an emotional Black said late Tuesday at her
attorney’s office in Monterey. “The stress has been tremendous for me. I’ve
been to the doctor several times and the money is (costly). But I just can’t
plead to something I didn’t do.”

In the course of NOAA’s six year investigation, NOAA investigators have
allegedly obtained numerous search warrants for the records, e-mails and
documents of numerous whale researchers on the west coast and seized much of
this material in a manner that has disrupted whale research and intimidated
the researchers.

Discovery in the case has just begun, and very few additional facts or
allegations have been made public by either side. No trial date has been
set, and it may be some time before one is set. In the meantime, Nancy has
had to incur very large legal fees to defend herself against these charges.

The many friends, scientific colleagues, and supporters of Nancy have
created a website: that provides detailed
information about the charges, and Nancy’s long history of whale and dolphin
research. The website will also provide current information about events in
the case as they occur and scheduled future events.  The website also
contains information about various ways that persons who choose to can
support Nancy in this case.

Persons who have information either: (a) relevant to the case or the events
in question or (b) comments about the effect NOAA’s investigation and
pretrial actions are having on ongoing and future whale research, are asked
to contact  either of Nancy’s attorneys:

– Mark R. Vermeulen, Law Office of Mark R. Vermeulen, 755 Florida St.  #4,
San Francisco, CA  94110, ph: (415) 824-7533, fax: (415)    824-4833,

– Lawrence Biegel, Biegel Law Firm, 2801 Monterey-Salinas Highway, Suite A,
Monterey, CA 93940, ph: (877) 223-8982, fax: 2801,  e-mail:

Jim Scarff  (
Independent whale researcher (mainly North Pacific right whales) Berkeley,
California, USA


(Taken from MARMAN)


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