U.S. subsidizing Makah whaling
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1995:
SEATTLE––The U.S. government is spending
$7 million to underwrite the Washington-based Makah
Tribe in killing whales next summer, charges Captain Paul
Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Watson cites grants, subsidies, and interest-free
loans to help build a marina big enough to serve whaling
vessels, provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
Forest Service, Department of Commerce, USDA, Office
of Native American Programs, and Washington State
Department of Parks and Recreation.
“The Corps of Engineers signed the Project
Cooperative Agreement with the Makah on May 2, 1995,”
Watson told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “On May 5, the
Makah informed the U.S. government that they would
resume whaling, for commercial reasons under the guise
of aboriginal whaling, without regulation under
International Whaling Commission rules. It is clear that
the Makah intend for the U.S. government to fund the
facilities for landing and processing whales. The federal
agencies are proceeding with no information on the
impending whaling operation other than the tribal
announcement of their intent and treaty right to kill grey
According to Watson, “The Makah whaling
operation could be the first step in opening the North
Pacific coast to whaling by native peoples in both the U.S.
and Canada.” Already several British Columbia tribes
have issued their own claims of a retained right to whale.
The five whales a year to be targeted by the Macaw might
not deplete grey whales as a species, just removed from
the U.S. endangered species list as “recovered” in late
1994, but if 10 tribes killed five whales each, the impact
could be felt. There are currently about 21,000 grey
whales. National Marine Fisheries Service marine mammalogist
Pat Gearin estimates the population can withstand
a maximum slaughter of 230 whales per year––but that
assumes ecological change such as the depletion of plankton
off the California coast and the escalation of salt mining
in the whales’ breeding area in the Gulf of California
doesn’t also reduce whale numbers.
The Makah, who joined the United States in
1855, are apparently the only U.S.-based tribe to have
included whaling rights among the hunting and fishing
rights they kept in ceding political sovereignty.
“The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has
contacted the funding agencies involved in the Makah plan
with a request to revoke all funding for the marina until the
tribe completes an environmental impact study that
includes plans by the Makah for whaling,” Watson said.
He added that the Sea Shepherds will “use all legal means
to stop illegal whaling activities from resuming in the U.S.
As a final resort,” Watson promised, “we will directly
intervene at sea.”
About 1,800 of the 2,300 registered Makah live
on the 27,000-acre tribal reservation. Logging brings in $7
million of their cumulative income of $10 million a year.
Seasonal unemployment runs as high as 50%, normal in
timber economies, but average Makah household income
is circa $20,000 a year, within rural U.S. norms.
When the Makah last hunted whales is unclear.
Anthropological accounts say the last Makah whale hunt
was before 1910. Isabelle Ides, 96, the oldest living
Makah, claims to have seen the landing of the last whale
caught in 1909. Other elders state the tribe hunted whales
in 1926. The Makah last killed a whale, however, on July
17, 1995, when tribal fisheries minister Daniel Greene
brought in a juvenile gray whale a federal fisheries biologist
had discovered already drowned in Greene’s salmon
nets––placed in a part of Neah Bay reportedly known to
have been frequented by the young whale and his mother.
Greene says the nets were arranged to allow
whales to swim between them on their feeding dives into
the kelp forests along the bay bottom. This claim assumes
whales can tell salmon nets from kelp; in fact, they hit
and damage nets often enough that Greene himself claims
to have lost four nets to whales over the years, at $2,000
apiece. NMFS and Canadian researchers are reportedly
developing sonic alarms to prevent such collisions.
“For decades,” wrote Kim Murphy of the L o s
Angeles Times, “custom and practice has been to untangle
and discard these incidentally caught whales, protected
under federal and international laws. Instead, Greene
called the tribal elders and got them to praying. The fresh
whale carcass was hauled onto shore at the Makah reservation,
butchered, and distributed to the 1,800 tribe members
who call this windy tip of land at the northwest corner
of the U.S. home. People ate whale that day, 10 tons of it
on the plate and in the freezer.”
Said Greene, “There are some elders who said
this was our answer for whaling, that it’s time to go whaling
again, that this one gave itself up to let us see how
much everybody wanted to do it.”