On October 11, the National Marine Fisheries Service held its third public comment session in Seattle, Washington, to hear opinions about the request by the Makah tribe to once again begin harvesting small numbers of whales.
The Makah killed their first whale in 70 years in 1999, but subsequently the Ninth Circuit Court ruled it needed a formal exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Makah have filed for such an exemption, and the NMFS has held public comment sessions as part of that process.
More than 100 people showed up for the session, most of the opposed to resumption of even small scale whaling. Animal rights activist Carol Janes, for example, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
I travel a lot for my work, and it means something when I say I’m from Seattle. [People] know about Mount St. Helens and the Mariners. I don’t want that meaning to change to: ‘That’s the place where they kill whales.’
The Humane Society of the United States’ Kitty Block told the Seattle Times,
We are worried about the precedent this would set. This law has saved millions and millions of animal lives.
We don’t want to come across as anti-tribal. And I am not denying their treaty right. But what does this do to our marine-mammal protection? And it is not just conservation; it is a humane issue. There is no humane way to kill a whale.
. . .
We have developed relationships with these animals [through whale watching tours]. It’s like a bait-and-switch: We go out there to see them — I’ve seen footage where people are leaning over and touching them — and now they are leaning over with a harpoon. It breaks a trust relationship.
Makah and Native American activists appealed to their long history of hunting whales, and the treaty they signed with the U.S. government guaranteeing the tribe the right to hunt whales (the tribe voluntarily refrained from hunting whales for decades after commercial whale hunting caused a drastic decline in the number of whales).
David Sones, vice chairman of the Makah Tribal Council, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
The animal rights groups would rather just see our culture disappear and that’s their right. But we really believe that we will get this waiver.
Bob Anderson, director of the Center for Native American Law at the University of Washington, noted that the current Makah predicament is a largely result of the tribe electing to work with federal officials in the mid-1990s instead of going its own way. Anderson told the Seattle Times
If they had gone out and just gone whaling, that would be allowed. By doing something they didn’t have to do, they triggered this federal action, and that resulted in the 9th Circuit ruling. Now the Makah are bound.
A final decision on the resumption of whaling by the Makah is likely years away, as once the National Marine Fisheries Service makes its decision on whether or not to grant a waiver that decision will be litigated for years regardless of which side the Fisheries Service comes down on.
Hearing shows Makahs, public divided over whaling rights. Claudia Rowe, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 12, 2005.
Makah Tribe seeks federal waiver to let it once again hunt for whale. Lynda Mapes, Seattle Times, October 11, 2005.
Third Makah whaling hearing draws 120 in Seattle. Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News, October 12, 2005.