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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Whale foundation fined $5,000

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

WAILUKU, Maui — The Pacific Whale Foundation was fined $5,000 yesterday after reaching a plea agreement with the state that resulted in the dismissal of 58 misdemeanor counts charging misconduct during humpback whale research activities.

Circuit Court Judge Joseph Cardoza levied the fine after the Maui nonprofit pleaded no contest to five counts of allowing people to ride on the gunwales of a vessel, a violation of state boating rules.

Those violations were not part of the original 91 charges filed against the foundation, which was accused of approaching whales without a valid research permit at the beginning of 1998. Cardoza dismissed 33 of those counts in June because they involved alleged acts outside the state's jurisdiction.

Foundation spokeswoman Anne Rillero said the group pleaded no contest to avoid a costly trial. "The state had no case and no evidence," she said. "We could have gone to court to prove our innocence, but that wasn't how we wanted to spend our supporters' money."

Deputy Prosecutor Attorney Robert Rivera could not be reached for comment.

Both the criminal and civil charges stemmed from a foundation internship program in which individuals paid about $1,400 to join researchers in viewing whales up close. Other whale researchers said they were prevented from conducting on-water research in early 1998 because state research permits were delayed until Feb. 5. But the foundation conducted research beginning early in January.

Foundation President Greg Kaufman earlier said the violations involved the actions of one research associate, who was dismissed.

In April 2000, the Pacific Whale Foundation paid a $5,000 fine to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after admitting to civil violations of falsifying and withholding research records in 1998.