- The tribe’s last legal whaling was in 1999, the first in more than 70 years
- Before that, the tribe’s ancestors had hunted in the area for thousands of years. In the 1920s, the tribe ceased whaling when the whales became endangered.
- The agency that helped broker this shutdown announced that it will likely end next month on Friday — as the feds often do when they publish something controversial
A Native American tribe in Washington state has been allowed to hunt gray whales once again — after a decades-long effort to revive the ancient practice.
The tradition has existed for more than 2,000 years, although the last time the tribe managed to hunt a member of the species was in 1999.
This hunt was permitted after a halt of more than 70 years during a recovery in the gray whale population, and saw Makah whalers successfully hunt a gray whale in the waters off the Olympic Peninsula.
Before this expedition – which sparked fierce protests – the tribe’s ancestors had been hunting in the region for thousands of years. In the 1920s, the tribe ceased whaling after the hunts reduced the population to the point where it was threatened with extinction.
The federal agency that helped broker this shutdown has announced that it will likely end next month.
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2,364-page ‘Final Environmental Impact Statement’ [NOAA] revealed that the tribe’s whaling practices will likely resume on December 18, 2023, albeit with some caveats.
It begins: ‘The action considered in this final environmental impact statement (FEIS) concerns the Makah Indian Tribe’s February 2005 request to resume limited hunting of North Pacific eastern gray whales inshore of customary fishing grounds and customs of the Tribe, off the coast of Washington state.
The report – produced more than eight years after the agency published a preliminary version on March 7, 2005 – cites how the hunts that brought the animal to the brink of extinction are “for ceremonial and subsistence purposes.”
The feds go on to mention how Makah reserved its right to whale in a treaty written in 1855, which saw the tribe surrender most of its lands, but received a guarantee of the ‘right to fish and to hunt whales or seals at the usual and customary times. . motives…in common with all citizens of the United States.’
That resolution made them the only tribe in the U.S. with a treaty that expressly guaranteed the right to whale – a treaty that allowed them to continue the practice until the 1920s, when commercial whaling decimated the population.
The feds wrote Friday: ‘The Tribe’s proposed action arises from the 1855 Neah Bay Treaty, which expressly guarantees the Makah Tribe’s right to hunt whales.
“To exercise this right, the Makah Tribe is seeking authorization from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Whaling Convention Act.”
After the nearly 60-year standstill and the only manhunt in 1999, the feds put an end to the practice again with a 2004 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals, which upheld a 2002 decision handed down by a three-judge panel from the same court.
The ruling found that the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to comply with federal law that required a study to be completed before the Makah could exercise their right to kill in the case of the whale in 1999.
Friday’s statement, a belated response to that decision, goes on to offer a series of strategies that would allow members of the ancient clan to resume their slaughter of the marine mammals.
One plan, called by NOAA the “No Action Alternative,” would ban the Makah from engaging in gray whale hunting, but it is unlikely as it requires an entity with legal standing to overturn the Ninth Circuit rulings.
The other six allow the Makah to kill gray whales with some stipulations regarding the number of whales allowed, when and where. under an exemption from the prohibition on killing whales stipulated in the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
One of them, identified by the statement as the Tribe’s “Proposed Action Alternative,” would allow the Makah to kill four Eastern North Pacific gray whales per year on average, with a maximum of five in any one year and up to 24 whales in any six. -year period.
“The number of whales that could be struck would be limited to no more than seven in any calendar year,” the Final Environmental Impact Statement adds, “and no more than 42 during any 6-year period.”
It adds that “the number of whales struck and lost would be limited to three per year and to 18 over the six-year period.”
Alternatives three to six offer practically the same, with small differences regarding the timing of the sanctioned hunting season, with different mortality limits for female and male whales.
Alternative #7 – considered the ‘Preferred Alternative’ by NOAA, would institute ‘An alternating winter/spring, summer/fall hunting season’, to reduce the risk to both the Pacific Coast gray whale feeding pod and the still Endangered North Western Pacific gray whale population.
The Pacific coast feeding group are the gray whales most frequently seen in the sea’s expanse, while their western counterparts – which summer off the Russian coast in the Sea of Okhotsk – remain endangered with only about 200 individuals.
The feds keep explaining how ‘The [Marine Mammal Protection Act] the exemption’ – in addition to coming into effect next month – ‘would expire after 10 years’, and that ‘regulations governing hunting would limit the initial license period to no more than three years’.
The Final Environmental Impact Statement adds that during this ten-year period, ‘No more than 25 whales may be struck… with a maximum of three strikes in any Winter/Spring hunt and a maximum of two strikes and one whale landed in summer/autumn.’
He continues: “A limit of 16 pods of whales feeding off the Pacific Coast could be achieved under Alternative 7, of which up to eight could be female.
“All whales struck and lost that could not be positively identified in winter/spring hunting years would count toward the Pacific Coast feeding group strike limit in proportion to their presence.
‘It is assumed that all whales struck in the summer/fall hunting seasons are pods of whales feeding off the Pacific Coast.’
The agency added that it will issue a final decision on the hunt in 30 days or so.