April 24, 2013
Sometime around April 25, 2004, Nancy Black, Monterey, CA, was on her boat in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Black was in the whale-watching business of taking customers out on the waters to view Killer Whales (also known as Orcas); and on that lovely spring day, she and her crew came upon a scene of dubious idyllic proportion: Orcas had killed a gray whale calf in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and pieces of the whale's blubber were floating in the water. Ah, yes, haven't we all seen that on the Discovery or National Geographic channels?
Back on board, Black and her crew grabbed floating blubber, cut holes through the corner of the chunks, and ran a rope through the pieces - and then tossed the attached mess back in order to monitor the feeding orcas. About a year later in April 2005, Black apparently engaged in the same roped floating blubber thing with another group of orcas.
You may be wondering: Hey, Bill, where the hell are ya goin' with all this blubber crap? And I would say: Hold your horses - umm, whales. I'm getting to the point, sort of.
Early in October 2005, a sanctuary officer was investigating a reported harassment that month of an endangered humpback whale in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Seems that the incident may have been filmed by one of Black's crew members, and, as such, she was asked to provide the videotape. Thereafter, around October 24, 2005, Black met with a sanctuary officer and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration("NOAA") investigative agent. Unfortunately, Black failed to disclose that the tape she handed over to the two federal investigators was edited by her to remove several minutes of footage including shots of the humpback whale between two vessels that belonged to her whale watching business. As these things go, Black's undisclosed edits subsequently raised questions as to whether she had wrongfully impeded or influenced NOAA's investigation.
On April 23, 2013, Black pleaded guilty in federal court in the Northern District of California to one count of violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act ("MMPA"), specifically, the MMPA's feeding prohibition, which makes it a crime to feed marine mammals in the wild. Sentencing in the case is set for August 6, 2013.
Bill Singer's Comment
Not really sure what to say about this case. I'm an animal lover; so I fully appreciate the need to protect and preserve wildlife. Frankly, I love whales - but for the fact that these are "killer" whales but, hey, who am I to stand in judgment? We all gotta eat, right?
On the other hand, our federal government is in the midst of layoffs and cutbacks as a result of sequestration. We just learned that a number of federal agencies may not have fully pursued red flags about the terrorists behind the Boston Marathon attacks. All of which sort of makes you wonder about manpower priorities and the triaging of criminal justice resources. Keep in mind that the underlying incident in this case was an eight-year-old incident involving floating blubber.
Alas, it's a tough call. We must protect the remaining species on our planet. We also must protect our citizens when they are engaged in nothing more controversial than watching a race on the streets of our nation. How we balance all of our competing priorities and address our roles as guardians of the Earth is an ongoing challenge. The harsh reality is that we have limited dollars, limited numbers of FBI agents and federal prosecutors, and an endless stream of cases demanding investigation and prosecution. If nothing else, life is filled with tough choices. I simply offer this case as an example of what happens when those competing concerns collide.