Will Tribe Be Allowed to Go Whale Hunting Again?
The Makah Native American tribe of Washington, located in the northwest plateau, wants back its right to hunt whales.
The Makah tribe had hunted for an estimated 1,500 years as a tradition. In a treaty in 1855, the U.S. government accorded the Makah the right to continue to hunt whales. It held its last hunt, held for ceremonial purposes, in 1999. Before that, it had been allowed to hunt for one baleen whale (gray or blue) annually.
For the record, the Makah tribe hunted whales until the 1920s, when it voluntarily stopped whaling because of the decline in populations of gray whales. When the animals came off the endangered species list in 1994, the tribe requested its right to whale. In 1999 some members of the tribe set out in a cedar canoe and harpooned a 30-foot gray. At this time, anti-whaling groups took notice and started pursuing a stop to this practice through the court system. The tribe held an unsuccessful hunt in 2000 and by that time, the legal system put the tribe's hunts on hold.
In 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed its ruling from 2002 that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) must waive the Marine Mammal Protection Act's whaling moratorium, and perform an environmental impact study before the tribe could hunt again.
In 2005, the Makah sent a letter stating that it believes it has the right, granted by the treaty, to hunt the Eastern North Pacific gray whale. The tribe wrote, The total take of gray whales for which the Tribe seeks a waiver is up to 20 gray whales in any five-year period subject to a maximum of five gray whales in any calendar year. The population of gray whales is estimated to be about 20,000.
NOAA began working on the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) in May 2008, but ditched it May 2012 to work on a new DEIS, based on the new scientific information -- which included a subgroup of Eastern North Pacific whales not known about in 2005. A much smaller population, some scientists think this new group, the Pacific Coast Feeding Group, numbers about 200 whales and that it will be difficult for any hunters to discern it from the other whales.
According to the Peninsula Daily News, "The new federal notice includes five alternatives: no action; waive the moratorium; allow hunting in offshore waters at least 3 miles from shore; a June 1-Nov. 30 hunt only; and an adaptive management hunt that would allow flexibility in permit terms, hunting seasons, allowable levels of whales struck and lost, and flexibility in landed whales up to the levels proposed by the tribe."
NOAA will meet in April to discuss the options, and a decision is expected in a year or two.
Do you think the Makah tribe should be allowed to hunt whales again?