Tribe takes milestone to resume whaling off Washington
An administrative law judge recommended that a Native American tribe in Washington state be re-authorized to hunt gray whales – a major step in its decades-long effort to resume the old practice.
“This is a testament to what we have said all these years: that we are doing everything we can to show that we are moving forward responsibly,” Patrick DePoe, vice president of the Makah tribe on the northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, said Friday. “We are not doing this for commercial reasons. We do this for spiritual and cultural reasons.
DePoe was in high school in the late 1990s when the Makahs were last allowed to hunt whales – occasions that sparked angry protests from animal rights activists, who occasionally threw smoke bombs on them. whalers and sprayed fire extinguishers on their faces.
Since then, the tribe’s attempts have been linked to legal challenges and scientific scrutiny. A federal appeals court ruled in 2002 that the Makah needed a waiver under the Marine Mammal Protection Act; the tribe requested it in 2005, but has yet to receive one.
On Thursday, nearly two years after presiding over a hearing on NOAA Fisheries’ proposal to approve the waiver, Administrative Judge George Jordan sent his 156-page recommendation to the US Department of Commerce. He found that tribal hunts would have no effect on the overall healthy whale population, despite unexplained mortality that has caused hundreds of whales to be discarded on the Pacific coast since 2019, and reportedly lowered their numbers. ‘about 27,000 to 21,000 to 25,000.
The recommendation, along with a public comment period and further environmental scan, will inform the ministry’s final decision, although no timeline has been set for it.
As proposed, the waiver would allow the tribe to land up to 20 gray whales from the Northeast Pacific over 10 years, with hunts scheduled to minimize the already low chances that hunters would accidentally harpoon a gray whale from the Northwest Pacific in Endangered.
While Jordan found the issuance of the waiver appropriate, he also recommended additional restrictions that could significantly reduce the number of whales killed by the tribe – possibly as few as five whales during the ten-year waiver period. . DePoe said the tribe is considering this recommendation, but called it a potential source of frustration and discussion.
The tribe hopes to use the whales for food and make crafts, artwork, and tools that they can sell.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the Animal Welfare Institute oppose these hunts, which many animal rights activists consider barbaric and unnecessary. They argued that NOAA’s environmental review was inadequate, that the Marine Mammal Protection Act may have overruled the tribe’s treaty right, and that the tribe could not claim a sustenance or cultural need. to hunt after so many decades.
Sea Shepherd said in an email Friday that it was reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment.
DJ Schubert, wildlife biologist for the Animal Welfare Institute, said in an emailed statement that the organization was disappointed with the recommendation.
“All gray whales (…) face critical anthropogenic threats from climate change, ocean noise, oil and gas development, pollution, coastal development, contaminants, bycatch and collisions with ships, ”said Schubert. “In light of these acute threats, a hunt for these animals is biologically unbearable and incompatible with the protective provisions of the MMPA. “
There are fewer than 300 gray whales left in the Pacific Northwest, Schubert said, and the recommended additional restrictions would not completely eliminate any risk to them.
Evidence presented to the government showed that the Makahs, who now number around 1,500 members, have been whaling for over 2,700 years. The tribe’s 1855 treaty with the United States reserved the “right to catch fish and to hunt whales or seals on usual and customary grounds.”
The Makah continued whaling until the 1920s, when commercial whaling devastated gray whale populations. The whale population rebounded in the eastern Pacific Ocean in 1994 and was removed from the endangered species list.
The Makahs trained for months in the old ways of whaling and received blessings from federal officials and the International Whaling Commission. They set sail in 1998, but only succeeded the following year, when they speared a gray whale from a hand-carved cedar canoe. A tribal member in a motorized support boat killed him with a high powered rifle to minimize his suffering.
DePoe was on a canoe that greeted the returning whalers as they towed the whale, and his high school store class worked to clean the bones and reassemble the skeleton, which hangs in a tribal museum.
“The bond between us and the whales is strong,” he said. “The Northwestern tribes have always seen themselves as stewards of the land, stewards of animals. We are not trying to do anything that might help deplete those resources.