Tribe Gains Big Step To Resume Whaling Off Washington

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title=state coast, as their ancestors did. (AP Photo / Elaine Thompson, File)” title=”CORRECTED DECISION DATE – FILE – In this file photo dated May 17, 1999, two Indian Makah whalers stand on the carcass of a dead gray whale shortly after they helped tow it offshore from the port of Neah Bay, Washington. An administrative law judge on Thursday, September 23, 2021 recommended that the Makah be allowed to resume whaling along the Washington state coast, as their ancestors did. (AP Photo / Elaine Thompson, File)” loading=”lazy”/>

CORRECTED DECISION DATE – FILE – In this file photo dated May 17, 1999, two Indian Makah whalers stand on the carcass of a dead gray whale shortly after helping to tow it in the port of Neah Bay, Washington, near the coast. An administrative law judge on Thursday, September 23, 2021 recommended that the Makah be allowed to resume whaling along the Washington state coast, as their ancestors did. (AP Photo / Elaine Thompson, File)

AP

An administrative judge has recommended that an Indian tribe in Washington state be allowed to hunt gray whales again – an important step in a decade-long effort to revive the old practice.

“This is evidence of what we’ve been saying over the years: that we are doing everything we can to show that we are moving responsibly,” said Patrick DePoe, vice chairman of the Makah Tribe on the remote northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula Friday. “We’re not doing this for commercial reasons. We do it for spiritual and cultural reasons. “

DePoe was in high school in the late 1990s when the Makah were last allowed to hunt whales – opportunities that sparked angry protests from animal rights activists, who sometimes tossed smoke bombs at the whalers and sprayed fire extinguishers on their faces.

Since then, the tribe’s attempts have been associated with legal challenges and scientific review. A federal appeals court ruled in 2002 that the Makah needed an exemption under the Marine Mammal Protection Act; the tribe applied for one in 2005 but still hasn’t received one.

On Thursday, nearly two years after chairing a hearing on NOAA Fisheries’ proposal to approve the waiver, administrative judge George Jordan made his 156-page recommendation to the U.S. Department of Commerce, stating that the tribal hunts had no effect on the total healthy population of whales.

The recommendation, along with a public comment period and further environmental analysis, will influence the department’s final decision, although no timetable has been set for it.

As suggested, the waiver would allow the tribe to land up to 20 gray whales in the eastern North Pacific over a period of 10 years, with the hunts being timed to minimize the already slim chances of hunters accidentally landing an endangered gray whale in the western North Pacific harpoon.

While Jordan found the waiver appropriate, he also recommended additional restrictions that could drastically reduce the number of whales the tribe kills – perhaps to just five whales during the decade-long waiver period. DePoe said the tribe are reviewing this recommendation, but cited it as a potential source of frustration and further discussion.

The tribe hopes to use the whales for food and to make crafts, works of art, and tools that they can sell.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the Animal Welfare Institute are against the hunt. They argued that NOAA’s environmental review was inadequate, that the Marine Mammal Protection Act may have invalidated the tribe’s contract law, and that after so many decades, the tribe was unable to make a living or a cultural need for hunting.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said in an email on Friday that it was reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment on it. The animal welfare institute did not respond to an email asking for a comment.

Evidence presented to the government showed that the Makah, now numbering around 1,500 members, has hunted whales for more than 2,700 years. The tribe’s treaty with the United States of 1855 retained the “right to catch fish and whale or seal hunt in common and familiar areas.”

The Makah continued whaling until the 1920s when they abandoned it because commercial whaling had devastated gray whale populations. The whale population in the eastern Pacific Ocean recovered by 1994 – it is now estimated at 27,000 – and they were removed from the list of endangered species.

The Makah trained in the ancient methods of whaling for months and received blessings from federal officials and the International Whaling Commission. They went into the water in 1998, but didn’t make it until the next year when they harpooned a gray whale from a hand-carved cedar canoe. A tribe member in a motorized support boat killed it with a high powered rifle to minimize its suffering.

DePoe was on a canoe greeting the returning whalers as they towed the whale, and his high school shop class was working cleaning the bones and reassembling the skeleton that hangs in a tribal museum.

“The connection between us and the whales is strong,” he said. “Tribes throughout the northwest have always considered themselves stewards of the land, stewards of the animals. We are not trying to do something that will deplete these resources. ”


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