Federal authorities have dialed back charges against well-known California marine biologist Nancy Black for feeding killer whales, as she agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanor charge of feeding wild orcas Tuesday.
Black, 50, had been facing felony charges what would have led to the loss of her license, research vessel, and as long as 25 years in prison, according to the Monterey Herald
The current plea agreement calls for no jail time or forfeiture of her boat, captain's license or future research opportunities, Black's attorney Larry Biegel told the Monterey Herald. The agreement calls for Black to serve up to five years probation, 300 hours of community service, and a fine.
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Assistant U.S. attorney Jeffrey Schenk and Christopher Hale, of the Justice Department's environmental crimes section, have declined to comment on the change in the past.
Black, who runs a popular whale watching tour in Monterey Bay, was charged with violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act when she fed whale blubber to orcas in the bay's National Marine Sanctuary in 2004 and 2005, according to The Associated Press
"I made a mistake," Black told U.S. District Court Judge Edward J. Davila on Monday, per the AP. "I've learned a big lesson. (The case is) the worst nightmare I could ever imagine."
"It's a sad event when a good scientist falls off the path," Davila told Black. "This is your life. This is your passion. These creatures rely on you."
He will sentence her on Aug. 6.
Black, along with her work as a whale-watch operator, conducted research, cataloging migrations of gray, humpback and blue whales and assisted a long list of film crews documenting unprecedented killer whale attacks in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, reported the Herald.
Black also has her detractors, who have complained that her boats are aggressive on the water, cutting off other vessels and approaching whales too closely, according to the Herald.
The newspaper reported that numerous marine scientists in California, Oregon and Washington, though, called Black a supportive researcher and that the government's original charges were overkill.
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