Federal Leviathan on the Loose?
Black, 50, a marine biologist who also captains a whale-watching ship, was
with some watchers in Monterey Bay in 2005 when a member of her crew whistled at
the humpback that had approached her boat, hoping to entice the whale to linger.
Back on land, another of her employees called the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to ask if the whistling constituted
“harassment” of a marine mammal, which is an “environmental crime.” NOAA
requested a video of the episode, which Black sent after editing it slightly to
highlight the whistling. NOAA found no harassment — but got her indicted for
editing the tape, calling this a “material false statement” to federal
investigators, which is a felony under the 1863 False Claims Act, intended to
punish suppliers defrauding the government during the Civil War.
A year after this bizarre charge — that she lied about the interaction with
the humpback that produced no charges — more than a dozen federal agents, led by
one from NOAA, raided her home. They removed her scientific photos, business
files and computers. Call this a fishing expedition.
She has also been charged with the crime of feeding killer whales when she
and two aides were in a dinghy observing them feeding on strips of blubber torn
from their prey — a gray whale.
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