Have you heard the one about the marine scientist facing more than 20 years in federal prison and a million dollars in fines for allegedly feeding killer whales and making false statements to investigators? Like all fish tales, this one is hard to believe.
The Alleged Crimes
In 2005, marine research scientist, Nancy Black, was leading a whale watching excursion in Monterey Bay, California. A humpback whale approached the boat, and one of Black’s crew members whistled in an effort to get the whale to linger nearby. This whistle was reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as possible “whale harassment.” In response to this report, the NOAA asked Black to submit a videotape of the incident. The NOAA found no harassment, but determined that Black had altered the videotape. She was charged with the federal crime of “making a materially false statement” to investigators.
In a separate incident during a research trip, Black was in an ocean dinghy observing a group of Orcas feeding on a gray whale they had attacked and killed. Black retrieved a piece of blubber that was floating on the surface, ran a rope through it, and tethered it to her boat. Her intent was to stabilize the blubber and keep it close by, so that she could submerge a video camera and observe the Orcas . For this act, she was charged with the federal crime of feeding killer whales.
The Government’s Response
In the years since Black’s 2005 encounter with the humpback whale:
- Her home has been raided by federal agents, who seized her computers, scientific photos and business-related files and documents.
- Her colleagues in the scientific community have been advised by NOAA agents to have no contact with her and to inform the NOAA if she contacts them; and
- Her accountant has been subpoenaed, even though none of the charges against her relates to her finances
Our Failure to Respond: Where is the Outrage?
All of these events beg some hard questions: What is the real crime here? Is it editing a videotape to highlight the alleged criminal conduct being investigated; is it “feeding” killer whales that were already feeding on prey they had killed on their own; or, is it the fact that Black has been forced to spend her life’s savings and untold emotional capital defending these charges?
Who is the real criminal here? Is it Black or is it the federal agents who have pursued, preyed upon and harassed her for almost a decade?
Where is the outrage over this prosecution and punishment that are so grossly out of proportion to the alleged crime?
Like others who have come before her (most recently the purveyors of raw milk and computer prodigy Aaron Swartz), Nancy Black is being bullied at the whim of the federal government. As George Will stated, in an opinion piece in the Washington Post last year: “This pursuit of Black seems to have become a matter of institutional momentum, an agent-driven case.” Nancy Black is trapped – ensnared by vague criminal laws that not only “enable government misconduct, they incite prosecutors to intimidate decent people who never had culpable intentions. And to inflict punishments without crimes.”
Contact Boston, MA Criminal Defense Lawyer, Kevin J. Mahoney
If you are facing criminal charges, you need an experienced and savvy Boston criminal defense lawyer to advise you honestly, to work tirelessly on your behalf, and win your case. Contact us at 617-492-0055 to schedule a free in-office consultation.
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