A $30,000 boat owned by Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the late, famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, was confiscated by federal agents Friday in Santa Barbara over allegations that the Marine Mammal Protection Act was violated in 2004 as orca attacks were being filmed.
It was alleged that Cousteau's crew in the 25-foot vessel named Manfish drove too close and even backed over a gray whale carcass that killer whales were feeding on, according to Monday's report by the Monterey County Herald.
Filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, the civil complaint for forfeiture describes the same set of facts that led Monterey Bay marine biologist Nancy Black to plead guilty in April to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Though her own research vessel was not seized, Black, co-owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch, will be sentenced to probation, a fine and community service in August…
“That’s not fair. For them that’s nothing,” said Black of the loss of Cousteau’s boat. “That’s what they should have done to me.
“If they thought I did something wrong, a civil fine would have been enough, instead of going through seven years of fighting a criminal case,” she said. “But the government insisted on that.”
Cousteau, whose name is not mentioned in the complaint, was unavailable for comment and his lawyer Lee Stein of Phoenix did not respond to The Herald.
The alleged infractions occurred in April 2004 while Cousteau and his crew from his Ocean Futures Society were filming an episode of the PBS television series "Ocean Adventures" in Monterey Bay.
Black had alerted Cousteau to the incredible scene and assisted in a dinghy by threading a knotted rope through a piece of floating blubber to keep it nearby so crews could get close-up footage.
NOAA investigators claim she was "chumming," or feeding the whales, in violation of federal law. Black has claimed there was no knot in the rope.
According to The Herald, federal researchers who had worked with Black privately said the government was over-reaching the law. The paper also said Black became a favorite of conservative media and advocacy groups as "the poster child victim of government run amok" while "Cousteau's involvement went unnoticed publicly."
The Ocean Futures Society admitted mistakes were made during the filming but stated that no animals or marine mammals were harmed and the matter "should not have been handled as an enforcement case," spokeswoman Holly Lohuis told The Herald.
Photos of Jean-Michel Cousteau, and he and his son Fabien from Ocean Futures Society Facebook page.