NOAA 99-R121
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Stephanie Dorezas
4/14/99

HAWAIIAN WHALE WATCHING AND RESEARCH OPERATION ASSESSED $13,000 CIVIL PENALTY FOR PERMIT VIOLATIONS

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has charged the Pacific Whale Foundation with seven civil violations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

NOAA assessed a civil penalty of $13,000 against the Pacific Whale Foundation in a Notice of a Violation and Assessment (NOVA) for actions that occurred between January and May of 1998.The charges include one count of failing to allow inspection of research records by providing a federal agent with falsified documents; one count of unauthorized approaches to within 100 yards of humpback whales; three counts of failing to include various data resulting from their research efforts in their annual report; one count of allowing unauthorized personnel to operate a vessel during research activities; and one count of failing to keep complete and accurate records of research activities.

The case resulted from an investigation into PWF's research activities during the 1998 whale research season after the agency received information that the Foundation had begun its research without the required permit authorizations.

"In issuing special research permits to study marine mammals, we rely heavily on the assurances of scientists that they will document their permitted activities fully and accurately.Such careful collection of data is a critical part of the scientific process.If the validity of the data is in question, then little if any scientific benefit is realized -- and marine mammals, which in this case are endangered humpback whales, are harassed without justification," said Ann Terbush, chief of the Permits Division for NOAA's Fisheries Service. "In light of the numerous humpback whale research projects and whale watching activities occurring in Hawaiian waters, it is imperative that researchers abide by the permit process in order to protect the whales and their habitat."

Settlement negotiations between NOAA's Office of General Counsel and the Pacific Whale Foundation are currently underway.PWF may decide to either pay a penalty or request a hearing before an administrative law judge.

The Fisheries Service is an agency of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Fisheries Service is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation's living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.