Animal Conservation

judge recommends tribe be allowed to hunt gray whales off Washington state | Whales

An administrative law judge recommended that a Native American tribe in Washington state be allowed to hunt gray whales – a major step in its decades-long effort to resume the old practice.

“This is a testament to what we’ve been saying 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 in the remote 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 which sparked angry protests from animal rights activists who occasionally threw smoke bombs at whalers. and sprayed fire extinguishers in 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 did not receive it.

On Thursday, nearly two years after presiding over a hearing on a government proposal to approve the waiver, Administrative Judge George Jordan sent his 156-page recommendation to the US Department of Commerce, saying the tribal hunts would have no effect. on the overall healthy whale population.

The recommendation, along with a public comment period and further environmental scan, will inform the final decision, although no timeline has been set.

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 of accidentally harpooning an endangered gray Pacific Northwest whale. disappearance.

While Jordan found the issuance of the waiver appropriate, he also recommended additional restrictions that could drastically reduce the number of whales killed by the tribe – possibly as low as five 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. They argued that the 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 subsistence or cultural need to hunt afterwards. so many decades.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said in an email that it was reviewing the decision and had not commented immediately. The Animal Welfare Institute did not respond to an email.

Evidence presented to the government showed that the Makahs, now numbering around 1,500, have been whaling for over 2,700 years. The tribal’s treaty of 1855 with the United States reserved the “right to catch fish and to hunt whales or seals on usual and customary grounds.”

The Makahs continued whaling until the 1920s, when they gave up because commercial whaling was devastating people. The gray whale population rebounded in the eastern Pacific in 1994 – it is now estimated at 27,000 – and they were 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 the animals. We are not trying to do anything that might help deplete those resources.

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