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The Story Behind The Makah Tribe's Whale Hunt Plans

    In May of 1994, Dave Sones, Fisheries Director for the Makah Indian Tribe of Western Washington state, won a five-year battle to remove the Eastern Pacific Gray whale for the U.S. endangered species list.  (In pression for the de-listing of the Gray whale, the Makah's lobbyists asserted that this move was "aimed not at allowing the hunting of gray whales, but so that research money can be shifted to other species in need of monitoring, such as salmon or marine birds.")  The Makah are the only Native American tribe to have reserved the right of killing whales by treaty.

    On May 2, 1995,   the Makah signed an agreement with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to construct a new breakwater and improvements to their marina.  The environmental impact study they submitted listed fishing, tourism, and whale watching as the reasons for the improvements.   Three days later, after five state and federal agencies committed to funding the new marina complex, the Makah informed the Department of Commerce of their intention to hunt whales.

    There are several problems with the Makah proposal, other than the prospect of whales once again being killed within the waters of the continental United States.

    First, no Makah has hunted a whale since 1926 and no living person can teach traditional whaling methods.   (The Makah have purchased and proposed to use military .50-caliber assault rifles--the same weaponry mounted in attack helicopters).  Second, the Makah's intention to land five whales per year means they may strike and mortally wound up to 20 whales in the effort to land five.  Finally, the Makah's bid has opened the door to whaling by every Indian band on the coast of British Columba (the B.C.-based World Council of Whalers received $20,000 in startup money from Norway and Japan in 1996), over a dozen of whom have expressed their intention to press for rights to kill Gray whales, Orcas, and Humpbacks as an extension of their fishing treaties should the Makah receive final authorization from the International Whaling Commission and U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.  If the U.S. succeeds in allowing the Makah to kill whales, it will effectively undermine the integrity of the United States' whale protection stance in the IWC.

    To be continued....

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