Biologist pleads guilty to feeding killer whales

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California marine biologist has pleaded guilty to illegally feeding killer whales in the wild, federal prosecutors said.

Nancy Black pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in San Jose to one count of violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The law protects marine animals by prohibiting the feeding of mammals in the wild, prosecutors said.

Initially, Black — who runs popular whale watching tours on Monterey Bay — was accused of feeding the killer whales, and misleading investigators by editing video footage of her encounters with other whales during a whale watching trip, then lying about it.

As part of a plea agreement, Black admitted that when she was on her boat in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in April 2004, she and her crew tied rope to pieces of gray whale blubber that were floating in the water to facilitate viewing of orcas eating the blubber, prosecutors said.

Black admitted in court papers that she didn't have a permit to feed the whales. She is due to be sentenced Aug. 6.

With the guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge, federal prosecutors agreed to drop all other charges and not to seek jail time, the loss of her boat captain's license, or forfeiture of her boat, one of her attorney's, Lawrence Biegel, said in a statement.

As a marine biologist, Black's work has been featured on PBS, National Geographic and Animal Planet. She has also worked with federal agencies on the study of whales, including the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, which is part of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

She also operates Monterey Bay Whale Watch, which offers year-round whale watching trips, where she is listed on the company's website as owner and lead naturalist.

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