Sea Shepherds give thanks for stormy seas
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1998:
NEAH BAY, Wash.; TOKYO– –
Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society celebrated Thanksgiving
ashore, tied at dockside in Friday Harbor.
A three-month symbolic blockade of
Neah Bay by his big blue boat, the Sea
Shepherd III, and his little black boat, The
Sirenian, kept the would-be whale-killers of
the Makah Tribal Commission bottled up in
port until after winter seas made just rowing a
hand-hewn wooden canoe life-threatening, let
alone trying to harpoon a gray whale from it.
The Sea Shepherd vessels didn’t
actually keep anyone from coming in or going
out of the harbor, but just knowing they were
there visibly grated the Makah would-be
“Instead of paddling out to sea to
stalk a 40-ton gray whale,” Associated Press
reported on November 17, “the eight-man
Makah whaling crew has been quietly quarreling
over the singing of sacred family songs.
And it is the feuding,” AP asserted, “not foul
weather, faulty equipment, or fear of radical
whaling opponents, that has delayed a hunt
many expected to have happened weeks ago.”
The disputes came to a head in that
day’s tribal council election. Vice chair Marcy
Parker, mother of whaling crew captain Eric
Johnson, lost her re-election bid by placing
third in a field of four.
“It started out that 23 families would
take the whale,” former Makah Whaling
Commission director John McCarty told the
Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “Then it got sidetracked
to one family, Marcy and her family.
It’s not a tribal hunt any more––it’s Marcy’s.”
John McCarty’s son Micah was on
the original whaling crew, but resigned in
October to attend law school.
By Thanksgiving, most of the gray
whales had already migrated south, beyond
range of even the Makah’s homemade PT boat,
which was to do the actual whale-killing with a
machine gun while the eight-member longboat
crew pretended to re-enact history.
As additional cause for Friday
Harbor merriment, though Watson and the Sea
Shepherds had nothing to do with it, the
Japanese whaling flagship, the factory vessel
Nisshin Maru, was limping to New Caledonia
for emergency repairs, than back to Japan for
further work, after a week-long fire.
Setting out on November 15 to kill
500 minke whales for purported research,
before a cheering crowd of 500 whaling industry
workers and supporters, the Nisshin Maru
was escorted by four smaller “catcher” vessels
including the newly launched Y u s h i n
M a r u––the first new whaling ship built anywhere
in the world in 26 years. It cost three of
Japan’s biggest fishing companies $20 million
––about a quarter of the estimated market
value of this winter’s minke whale catch.
Most of the 500 whales were reportedly
to be killed within the Southern Oceans
Whale Sanctuary designated in 1994 by the
International Whaling Commission. Because
the killing was said to be for “science” rather
than commerce, even though the whales
would be sold, it was technically legal.
Like the Makah whaling bid, based
on a so-called cultural tradition which hadn’t
been practiced in 70 years, it was also a blatant
circumvention of IWC regulation.
But the whale processing deck of the
Nisshin Maru burst into flame on November
19, apparently as result of an accident. The
vessel was soon drifting, without power for
several days due to wiring damage and a
smoke-filled engine room, 600 miles southeast
of Brisbane, Australia. Most of the crew,
estimated at 111 to 115 members, were temporarily
evacuated to the catcher boats.
Power was restored on November
25, but the flames weren’t out until November
28. The owners spoke of putting back out to
sea again soon, but most reports indicated that
the ship couldn’t sail before January.
“We’ll be back”
While the fate of the minke whales
remains up to fortune, Watson said on
December 2 that he felt “confident that the
gray whales are safe for the balance of 1998.
We will be back in the spring,” Watson added.
He also pointed out that the whale
hunt that didn’t happen had already been a
boon to the Makah economy. “The media continue
to pay fees to the Makah to rent a boat,”
Watson explained. “Motels and other businesses
are having a profitable season.”
Indeed, most Makah might have
made more money by not killing a whale, yet
prolonging the suspense as to when they would
try, than if a whale had been killed.
And the cost of staging the drama
was largely covered by a grant of $310,000
from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Should the Makah unexpectedly
move to kill a whale in mid-winter, the Sea
Shepherds are still only a few hours from Neah
Bay, and reportedly still have the tribal fleet
The major action over the next several
months is likely to come in courtrooms.
On November 18, Representative Jack
Metcalf (R-Washington), the Fund for
Animals, Breach Marine Protection,
Australians for Animals, and a variety of other
plaintiffs jointly appealed to the U.S. 9th
Circuit Court of Appeals a September 21 U.S.
District Court ruling that the Makah hunt was
duly authorized by NMFS.
Explained a Fund media brief, “The
plaintiffs claim the U.S. Department of
Commerce,” of which NMFS is a branch,
“failed to comply with the National Environmental
Policy Act when approving the tribe’s
whaling plan, and also that the whale hunt
violates international and domestic law
because the tribe has never been recognized by
the IWC as having a legitimate subsistance
need to kill whales.”
Conflicts between treaty rights and
conservation needs in two separate instances
may influence the debate.
The same day the Metcalf et al
appeal was filed, the U.S. District Court of
Appeals in Chicago upheld a 1996 verdict by
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of Madison,
Wisconsin, that the Menominee tribe retains
no off-reservation hunting and fishing rights.
The Menominee held that an 1831 treaty gave
members the right to fish and hunt without regulation
across much of eastern Wisconsin.
Crabb ruled that other treaties the
Menominee signed in 1836, 1848, and 1854,
as well as the specific language of the 1831
treaty, did not support that view.
The specific language of the 1855
treaty which the Makah claim guarantees their
right to whale is that “The right of taking fish
and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed
grounds and stations is further secured
to said Indians in common with all citizens of
the United States.”
Metcalf et al contend that since “all
citizens of the U.S.” no longer have “The right
of taking fish and of whaling or sealing,”
such alleged rights no longer exist.
While that fight plays out, NMFS is
considering emergency action to protect the
last 500 beluga whales of Cook Inlet, Alaska,
whom “subsistence” whalers have apparently
shot to the verge of extinction. A genetically
unique subgroup, the Cook Inlet belugas numbered
1,000-plus just five years ago.
“Based on information provided by
hunters,” Anchorage Daily News r e p o r t e r
Natalie Phillips explained on November 19,
“biologists report that for every whale landed,
one is shot and presumed dead but lost in the
murky, turbid water. That adds up to an average
of 72 whales being killed by hunters annually,”
a killing rate in excess of reproduction.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act
allows coastal Alaskan natives to kill marine
mammals without limit, so long as they are
killed without waste. Native hunters may even
sell meat and body parts to other natives.
“In other areas around the state,”
Phillips continued, “NMFS has entered into a
co-management agreement with the Alaska
Eskimo Whaling Commission to keep track of
the harvest of bowhead whales,” a far scarcer
species. “That is what NMFS and others
watching the belugas would like to see happen
in Cook Inlet. But there is no one organization
that all Cook Inlet hunters belong to. Many
natives come from coastal villages outside the
district to hunt the Cook Inlet belugas.”
Alaska Beluga Whale Committee
chair Ross Schaeffer claimed outside poachers
may be killing belugas for commerce.
Whatever the case, NMFS in midNovember
published a 60-day notice of intent
to regulate, opening a public comment period.
And any regulation adopted has an excellent
chance of being challenged in court, in a case
with potential to force judges to weigh treaty
rights vs. species survival.