Animal Welfare Institute Condemns Illegal Whale Hunt by Makah Tribal Members

Calls on State, Tribal and Federal Authorities to Fully Prosecute Culprits and Federal Government to Terminate Efforts to Facilitate Future Whaling by Makah

Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute is outraged by the killing of a gray whale in the Strait of Juan de Fuca by members of the Makah Tribe, condemning it as an illegal, cruel, and callous act that must not go unpunished.

"The American public should be aghast and angry that five members of the Makah Tribe have harpooned and shot a harmless, sentient and intelligent gray whale," states Cathy Liss, President of the Animal Welfare Institute.  "This tragedy was committed in violation of Federal and State laws and we expect and insist that the state, federal, and tribal law enforcement authorities arrest, charge, and prosecute all involved in this incident to the fullest extent." 

Though not supported by all tribal members, the Makah Tribe, with the assistance of the US government and at taxpayer expense, has been trying to kill gray whales for erroneous subsistence needs since 1996. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has twice ruled that the government's required environmental analyses were deficient and has prohibited the hunt, although members of the Tribe were able to kill one gray whale in 1999 in the midst of the legal wranglings. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is now preparing a more detailed environmental document and addressing other legal matters to facilitate future whaling by members of the Makah Tribe through a waiver process under the Marine Mammal Protection Act—the law enacted to protects all whales from harm by US citizens. In May of this year, the US secured—albeit illegally—a quota to kill gray whales from the International Whaling Commission the body responsible for the management of the great whales on behalf of those Makah tribal members who desire to kill whales.

"The US government must react to this brazen act of lawlessness and cruelty by terminating its current efforts to allow for future whaling by the Makah Tribe," explains D.J. Schubert, AWI's wildlife biologist. "AWI will be officially petitioning NMFS to cease wasting taxpayer dollars and demonstrate the seriousness of this crime by terminating its efforts to help the Tribe to whale and instead to permanently protect the gray whales, both resident and migratory, who inhabit waters in and around Neah Bay." He adds.

Makah Tribe Whaling Chronology

1855 The United States Government (USG) and Makah Tribe entered into the Treaty of Neah Bay which secured "[t]he right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and stations…in common with all citizens of the United States."

Late 1920s The Makah Tribe ceased whaling after the population of eastern North Pacific (ENP) gray whales significantly declined, due largely to commercial whaling. After the Tribe stopped whaling, its subsistence need for whale meat disappeared.[1]

1946 USG signed the ICRW and joined the IWC. In 1949 it enacted the Whaling Convention Act (WCA) implementing the ICRW and making it unlawful to whale in violation of the ICRW, the IWC Schedule, or a United States Secretary of Commerce.

1970 Gray whales were listed as "endangered" under the United States Endangered Species Conservation Act, a precursor to the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 1972 the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was enacted prohibiting the unpermitted taking of marine mammals except by "Alaskan Natives…for subsistence, or [f]or purposes of creating and selling authentic native articles of handicraft and clothing…to an Indian, Aleut or Eskimo."

1994 USG removed ENP gray whales from the ESA listing and began a five-year monitoring program.

1995 The Makah Tribe notified the USG of its interest in resuming the hunting of ENP gray whales for a "ceremonial and subsistence harvest"[2] and asked the USG to seek IWC approval for a quota.

1997 After submitting and then withdrawing a proposal for a quota of ENP gray whales at the 1996 IWC meeting, the USG submitted a joint proposal with the Russian Federation for 620 ENP gray whales, of which 20 were for the Makah Tribe. The proposal was approved by IWC consensus after the insertion into the ICRW Schedule of the term "whose traditional subsistence and cultural needs have been recognized."

1997 A lawsuit was filed against the USG challenging the adequacy of the USG's compliance with domestic law, namely the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which requires adequate and transparent analysis of federal actions with significant environment impact.[3]

1998 With litigation ongoing, NMFS allocated the quota to the Makah Tribe the 1999 season under the WCA. In the same year, summary judgment was made in favor of the USG. The decision was appealed.

1999 A single ENP gray whale was struck and landed. Later that year the USG ended its 5-year monitoring program of the ENP gray whales and concluded that the population should remain de-listed from the ESA.

2000 An appeal against the lawsuit judgment was successful and prevented the Makah Tribe from whaling legally until the USG complied with the law. The USG recommenced its domestic legal obligations and completed its NEPA responsibilities in 2001. A further lawsuit was filed in 2002 challenging the adequacy of the NEPA compliance and citing a violation of the MMPA.[4]

2002 With litigation ongoing, the USG submitted a successful joint proposal with the Russian Federation to the IWC for an aboriginal subsistence quota of 620 ENP gray whales, of which 20 were for the Makah Tribe for the period 2003 through 2007.

2002 After initial summary judgment in favor of the USG, the decision was overturned on appeal. The USG was forced to recommence its NEPA obligations and require that the Makah Tribe seek a waiver to the MMPA to hunt whales. Illegal whaling by members of the Makah Tribe was stopped.

2004 The IWC adopted by consensus a USG co-sponsored proposal to strike the language relating to the IWC having to recognize the "traditional aboriginal subsistence and cultural needs" of aboriginal subsistence whalers of ENP gray whales, that had been inserted prior to the approval of the 1997 Russian-US ENP gray whale quota request.[5]

2005 Members of the Makah Tribe requested a waiver to the MMPA. The USG commenced its domestic legal obligations under NEPA and the MMPA. The process is ongoing and may take at least a year to conclude, assuming the documentation is in order and depending on any legal challenges to the final decision.

2007 The USG submitted a joint proposal with the Russian Federation to the IWC for 620 ENP gray whales, of which 20 would be for the Makah Tribe.[6] The proposal was approved by IWC consensus though again the subsistence nature of the hunt was questioned.

2007 Five members of the Makah Tribe, including members of the Makah Whaling Crew and the Crew Captain hunt and kill a gray whale in the Strait of San Juan de Fuca.

[1] The 2007 Needs Statement submitted by the United States at IWC59 (IWC/59/ASW9) states the "subsistence benefits [were] reintroduced to the Makah community 1999."
[2] "Chronology of Major Events Related to Makah Tribal Whale Hunt," NMFS Northwest Regional Office.
[3] Metcalf v. Daley, 214 F.3d 1135 (9th Cir. 2000) on appeal.
[4] Anderson v. Evans, 371 F.3d 475, 500 (9th Cir. 2004) on appeal, after two refusals by the court to allow defendants requests for en banc review.
[5] Annual Report of the International Whaling Commission, Sorrento, Italy. 2004.
[6] Chair's Summary Report of the 59th Annual Meeting, Anchorage, Alaska, May 2007

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