Gray Whales Under Hunting Threat

In May 1999, whalers from the Makah Tribe in northwestern Washington state killed a gray whale—something they had not done since the 1920s. Even the few tribal elders who could remember the last kill did not know how to butcher the animal, so an Alaskan whaler was called in to demonstrate. They were able to obtain only a fraction of the meat and blubber before the carcass was left to rot on the beach.

In 2000, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the government acted illegally in allowing the hunt to take place. A second attempt to issue the permit was struck down in 2002. In the latter ruling, the court held that, under the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) must complete an environmental impact statement before permitting the hunt, and that the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibition on killing marine mammals was applicable to the Makah Tribe.

In response, in 2005 the tribe formally requested a waiver to the MMPA. NMFS, seeking to accommodate the request, initiated an environmental review of the proposed hunt. In March 2015, the agency’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) was published—the first step toward granting a waiver and sanctioning the hunt. The Makah seek an allowance to “strike” up to 42 whales over six years, and to kill 24 over that period. (Struck whales are not always killed.)

For reasons outlined on page 13 of this issue, AWI opposes the hunt and the granting of an MMPA waiver.