(CN) - A California whale watcher who tied pieces of whale blubber on a rope to monitor the feeding of orcas pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal crime.
The plea concerns actions Nancy Black, of Monterey, Calif., committed in 2004 and 2005 while conducting research on orcas in the north Pacific Ocean.
Black said she had been on her ship, the Black Dog, with a team of assistants on April 25, 2004, when they found orcas, also known as killer whales, feeding off a gray whale calf they had killed in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
"On the occasions when orcas manage to kill a gray whale, the pod of orcas does not always eat all of the gray whale at once," Black acknowledged in the plea. "Often, portions of the carcass, including strips and chunks of blubber (some over 6 feet in length and weighing over 100 pounds), remain floating or semi-submerged after a kill. Chunks of gray whale blubber have been observed to persist in the general area of a kill, depending on wind and currents, for 24 to 72 hours. Orcas and sea birds feed on these chunks of blubber while they are still available in the area."
Black grabbed a piece of the blubber, cut a hole, ran a rope through it, and then returned the blubber to the water, watching the feeding behavior of the orcas as they ate the blubber off of the rope, according to the plea.
She and the crew repeated the process with the rope and other pieces of the blubber, though this conduct was not permitted under her permit, according to the plea.
Black said she staged a similar feeding on April 11, 2005.
Later that year, a sanctuary officer who was investigating the reported harassment of an endangered humpback whale in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary asked Black to provide the videotape her crewmember had created of her interaction with that humpback.
Before the Oct. 24 meeting where she turned over that footage to the officer and an agent of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, however, Black edited the tape.
Those changes removed several minutes that included footage of the humpback whale between two vessels from Black's whale-watching business.
Black did not tell the officer that she had edited the tape and has admitted that her actions could have impeded the agency's investigation.
Under the feeding prohibition of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), it is a crime to feed marine mammals in the wild. It applies to commercial and recreational boaters, and protects all species of marine mammals.
Black delivered her plea to this crime in San Jose, Calif. At sentencing on Aug. 6, she faces up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.