From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1999:
NEAH BAY, Washington–“Al Gore and the U.S. Coast Guard got their whale,” the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society sluglined a May 17 e-mail, detailing the Makah tribe killing of a two-to-three-year-old female gray whale.
At 6:55 that morning, the whale spy-hopped beside the Makah whaling canoe and looked directly at the killers. As documented by a KING-TV/Northwest Cable News helicopter, Makah harpooner Theron Parker stabbed her before she had any evident sense of danger. Putting up no fight, trying to duck under the bow of the canoe, she was then stabbed by a second Makah, Donny Swan, 23, and was machine-gunned from the speed boat used to tow the canoe, taking about 10 minutes to die as her blood stained the green sea a sickly red.
“It was easy,” boasted Makah whaling chaplain Darrell Markishtum to Lynda V. Mapes of the Seattle Times.
The age and conduct of the whale brought speculation that she was J.J., the gray whale who was rescued and rehabilitated by Sea World at San Diego after stranding nearby in January 1997. About three days old then, she became quite trusting of humans. She was returned to the ocean on March 31, 1998, outfitted with two radio
transponders–but she lost them both within days.
After sinking once in 25 feet of water, due to inept carcass retrieval, the dead whale was pulled back to the surface by a fishing boat and dragged to shore at Neah Bay, as the whalers blasted air horns and the Makah schools shut for an impromptu holiday.
Makah tribe members were videotaped dancing on her remains and drinking Pepsi-Cola at an all-night party, while a hired Aleut butcher hacked off strips of her flesh. “Hey, we need some Makah over here!” the Aleut reportedly called at one point when left to work almost alone.
Makah whaling captain Wayne Johnson made plain that the first whale-killing wouldn’t be the last. Johnson said another Makah crew, representing different families, could soon begin training to kill more whales.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 1997 authorized the Makah to kill as many as five whales a year through 2002, under a annual quota of 140 shared among Russian and U.S. aboriginal tribes. Breach Marine Protection and coplaintiffs argued unsuccessfully in a 1998 federal suit that the IWC did not mean for the Makah to have part of the quota, since the resolution allotting it stipulated that it was for the use of tribes dependent upon whaling for subsistence–which the Makah are not.
Rejected by the U.S. District Court in Tacoma, the case is now under appeal.
Both U.S. Vice President Al Gore and President Bill Clinton were in Seattle only hours either way of the whale-killing, in part to promote Gore’s bid to succeed Clinton in the White House. Neither commented on the whale-killing, but it was a major step toward the global resumption of full-scale commercial whaling that the Clinton/Gore administration has quietly pursued since taking office, in keeping with their endorsement of “sustainable use” wildlife management.
Said Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson, “Today, with speed boats, military weaponry (a .50-caliber modified anti-tank gun), and the draconian assistance of the U.S. government in stifling all dissent, American whalers managed to blast a whale out of existence in American waters on the pretext of cultural privilege. A tribe that has made no secret of its intention to return to commercial whaling has brought the U.S. one giant unwilling step closer to the day when the wholesale slaughter of whales for profit will be permitted within the coastal waters of every nation,” exactly as Ireland proposed a week later at the annual International Whaling Commission convention in Grenada.
Taking no part in opposing Makah whaling, Greenpeace IWC observer Gerry Leape told Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times’ Washington D.C. bureau that it was a mere distraction from efforts to squelch the Irish proposal, which was made after Japan heavily subsidized the Irish fishing industry.
“Now that the Makah have landed one whale,” Leape continued, “we may spend a fourth year at IWC arguing about the Makah instead of focusing on Japan and Norway, who are killing 1,200 whales this year.” Actually, the first argument at IWC this year concerned a Japanese motion to bar Greenpeace, because members of Greenpeace Australia in November 1998 delayed the departure from New Caledonia of a Japanese whaling vessel which had put in for emergency repairs. The motion failed, 22-9.
But Leape was right that the Makah whale-killing drew attention away from much other whale-killing. As the May 24-29 IWC meeting approached, and the Makah stepped up their efforts to kill a whale before any resolution could be passed to stop them, a six-man crew from the Bering Strait village of Little Diomede on May 6 killed a bowhead whale– among the rarest of whales–for the first time since 1937. Little Diomede villagers last struck a bowhead in either 1953 or 1979, depending on which accounts are believed. The IWC authorized them to kill two bowheads a year in 1991, but hunting expeditions since then hadn’t found any.
The 40-vessel Norwegian whaling fleet sailed, to little notice, on the same day the Makah killed the gray whale. The
self-set Norwegian quota this year is 753 minke whales–the most hunted since 1988. Japan on May 9 lifted a 27-year-old ban on hunting rare bottlenose whales, also known as Baird’s beaked whales, in the Sea of Japan, setting a 1999 quota of eight. Japan already allows the killing of 54 bottlenose whales per year in Pacific coastal waters.
On May 12, the Environmental Investigation Agency published a report arguing that the current Japanese massacre of 17,700 Dall’s porpoises per year–down from 40,000 in 1987, but rising again each year since 1992–could jeopardize that species. The IWC in 1991 asked Japan to hold the Dall’s porpoise kill down to 10,000 or fewer.
Switzerland moved this year that the IWC should begin to regulate the hunting of small whales. No action was taken, after Japan briefly walked out in protest.
Japan had on the IWC agenda a proposal to repeal the 1994 designation of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, ringing Antarctica. The proposal could not have been passed without the support of 30 of the 40 IWC member nations, but was seen by New Zealand IWC delegate Jim McLay as “a strategic move to head off a proposal to establish a South Pacific sanctuary,” around New Zealand and Australia, “which would add on to the Southern Oceans sanctuary.”
Brazil meanwhile proposed extending sanctuary status to the South Atlantic, Italy proposed making the Ligurian Sea a fin whale sanctuary, and the Indian Ocean was declared a whale sanctuary well before the Southern Oceans sanctuary was designated. The new sanctuary proposals were taken under study.
The fishing firms which own the Japanese whaling industry are interested in the money to be made from whaling–but are even more interested in guarding their ability to fish in distant waters by fighting any precedents for stronger international oceanic regulation. The IWC on May 26 restrained Japan somewhat with a resolution telling the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species not to change the “trade prohibited” status of any whale without IWC approval. Japan has been lobbying to drop minke whales and other species from the “trade prohibited” category.
Makah open path
The Makah were allowed to resume killing gray whales, after a 73-year lapse, on condition that none of the meat or byproducts be sold, though potlatch trade with other tribes is permitted. But the original Makah proposal to resume whaling, issued only hours after gray whales came off the U.S. endangered species list in 1995, spoke bluntly of reviving the former Makah commercial whaling industry, to offset reservation unemployment currently at 55%.
Timber holdings are reportedly the biggest source of tribal revenue other than government aid, but are depleted. The Makah have made little effort to develop tourism potential–including whale-watching. Many later statements by Makah Tribal Whaling Commission spokespersons left no doubt that the tribe hopes to eventually export whale meat to Japan.
Within days of the Makah whale-killing, Japan–as expected–asked the IWC to authorize “cultural” whaling by coastal
Japanese communities. The IWC refused.
The 13 tribes of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council in southern British Columbia reiterated their interest in whaling, too. Canada quit the IWC in 1982. Responded B.C. premier Glen Clark, “We will not sign any agreement nor entertain any discussion about going back to the past and allowing any whale hunt in B.C. by aboriginal peoples.”
But B.C. aboriginal affairs minister Gordon Wilson speculated that B.C. might have little say in the matter if Ottawa decides to let indigenous tribes resume whaling. Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council co-chair Nelson Keitlah stated that whether Clark liked it or not, whaling would be discussed as part of upcoming treaty negotiations also pertaining to salmon fishing and logging rights.
Most B.C. tribes have never signed treaties with the Canadian government. The negotiations are intended to resolve a long list of resultant legal problems. “The Makah success certainly lays out a blueprint for us,” fellow Nu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council co-chair Francis Frank told Alex Tizon of the Seattle Times.
Other Nuu-Chah-Nulth leaders include Tom Happynook of the Huuayaht Nation, who chairs the World Council of Whalers. Based in Port Alberni, B.C., the World Council of Whalers was formed in 1997 with Japanese and Norwegian funding, specifically to promote “cultural” whaling.
Gore cuts deals
Norway unilaterally resumed commercial whaling in coastal waters in 1994, soon after Gore, at a White House meeting with then-Norwegian prime minister Gro Brundtland, in effect agreed to trade U.S. failure to enforce the 1986 IWC moratorium on commercial whaling for the completion of a $261 million missile sale to Norway. The sale, headlined and detailed in the June and July/August 1994 editions of ANIMAL PEOPLE, helped major defense contractors in Congressional districts held by Democrats.
The Clinton/Gore administration then backed Makah whaling to the point of building the Makah a new marina; funding the Makah delegations to the IWC; funding the Makah public relations campaign; and ordering the Coast Guard to keep protesters 500 feet away from the whale-killing vessels, ostensibly so that the protesters would not harass the whales. Puyallup and Tulalip tribe supporters of the Makah were allowed much closer.
The Clinton/Gore administration claimed their support for the Makah was just a matter of respecting language in the 1855 treaty that established the Makah reservation, which granted the Makah fishing and whaling rights “such as may be enjoyed by any other citizen of the United States.”
Whaling foes hold that since other citizens of the U.S. do not have any whaling rights, the Makah should not have any, either. This contention was rejected in November 1998 by the U.S. federal court in Tacoma; the verdict is under appeal.
Cynics note, meanwhile, that the major interest Clinton and Gore have had in Native American treaty rights pertains to the operation of gambling casinos. Native-run casinos have heavily donated to the Clinton and Gore campaigns, and to other Democratic candidates.
Whether or not Gore pays a political price for the whale-killing would appear to depend mainly upon how vigorously
animal and habitat protection groups work to remind the public of his role in bringing it about. Protest vigils held in Seattle and Portland drew only about 100 people and 40 people, respectively– but opinion polls showed huge disapproval of the whale-killing.
The Seattle Times reported receiving 552 telephone calls and e-mails on the day of the killing, 71% of them opposing the Makah. Ten days later, with video of the whale’s death no longer on news broadcasts, a McLaughlin Group poll showed 82% opposed, nationwide–and found a similar balance of opinion among all ages surveyed: 89% opposed among ages 16-21, 84% opposed among ages 22-35, 77% opposed among ages 36-64 (the group most likely to have
come into political awareness during the heyday of the American Indian Movement in the 1970s), and 80% opposed among ages 65-plus. A Victoria Times-Colonist telephone poll, in the World Council of Whalers’ home town, recorded 769 respondents opposed, to just 52 favoring the Makah.
“Sea Shepherd and other whale protection advocates will now ask Congress to amend the 1855 treaty with the Makah in order to bring it into compliance with international regulations,” the Sea Shepherds pledged, suggesting that the Makah might be given land in trade for their claim to whaling rights. Senator Slade Gorton and Representative Jack Metcalf, both Republican residents of Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, indicated they would be listening.
Gorton told Peggy Andersen of Associated Press that the Makah decision to go whaling was “extraordinarily foolish, and an affront to the sensibilities of tens of millions of their fellow Americans. This is an aggressive effort by the tribes to show they can avoid the laws that govern the rest of us,” Gorton continued. “I am more convinced today than ever before that we must bring common sense back to the relationship between this country, our laws, and Native American tribes.”
Gorton’s position further split the formerly strong “wise use” Republican faction in Congress, who were already divided by disputes among fishers, farmers, and loggers over who is to blame for declining salmon runs. Aligned with farmers and loggers, Gorton on Makah whaling directly opposed Richard Pombo (R-California), a Gorton ally just four years ago in efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act. Pombo delivered– by video–one of the welcoming speeches to the March 27-30 World Council of Whalers meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Influential Democrats as well as Republicans opposed the whale-killing–and not just after the fact. On May 10, a week before the killing, the Central Committee of the Democratic Party for Los Angeles unanimously ratified a resolution adopted earlier by the Malibu Democratic Club and Malibu City Council, calling “on the Clinton and Gore administration to rescind the recent policy decisions of the Commerce Department to permit and encourage the killing of our Pacific gray whales by U.S. and Russian-based whalers,” and calling also “on the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard, who recently facilitated the release of J.J., to abstain from giving assistance and protection to whalers who will now attempt to kill J.J. and her kin.”
Further, they resolved, “We call on all deliberative bodies of the Democratic Party to adopt resolutions similar to this.” The bipartisan opposition to whale-killing enabled Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to push a rider through Congress as part of a budget bill which forbids beluga whale hunting in Cook Inlet, Alaska, by either of two rival indigenous factions, until they have reached a co-management agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Cook Inlet beluga population has dropped from circa 1,350 as of 1990 to as few as 275 today, as each faction presses a claim to ownership of the whaling rights. President Clinton signed the budget bill and the Stevens rider into law on May 21.
Makah tribal chair Ben Johnson Jr. complained to media of allegedly receiving threats among 32 telephone calls of protest that the tribe answered during the first two hours after word of the whale-killing was broadcast as part of local noon news programs–and evicted KIRO Newsradio reporter Steve Knight, of Seattle, from the press conference, after Knight asked him to respond to allegations that the Makah’s claim of reverence for the dead whale were belied by
a tribe member who was seen doing back flips off the carcass.
The Coalition for Human Dignity, Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, Washington Association of Churches, Seattle office of the American Jewish Committee, Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, Asian-Pacific American Coalition for Equality, and Japanese American Citizens League all lined up in defense of the Makah at a May 21 press conference, emboldening Johnson and other Makah to accuse whaling opponents of racism.
Paul Watson had a quick response to that, having evaded the FBI in 1973 to enter the beseiged American Indian Movement encampment at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Serving as a volunteer medic, Watson had a dream while there that an elder interpeted as meaning he should devote his life to saving whales. “I don’t care if the whale is being hunted by Norwegians, Japanese, Tongans, New Zealanders, or the Makah,” Watson said. “We will oppose it.”
Watson’s best-known campaigns over the years have been against Portuguese, Russian, and Norwegian whalers, and
Canadian sealers–virtually all of them Caucasian. “The whale killing, I feel,” said Green Web founder and Native American rights advocate David Orton, “will be a turning point for environmental/aboriginal relations. A message has been sent that it is all right to kill whales for ‘cultural’ reasons.
This is a massive setback, not only for the whales, but for all those who have worked to end whaling. And it is a setback for those who have worked to change the dominant view of automatically treating wildlife as a ‘resource’ for humankind. I believe it is also a setback for those aboriginals who see that seeking social and ecological restorative justice must include building alliances with non-aboriginals.”
While most Native American groups either backed the Makah or kept silent, the First Nations Environmental Network declared on May 19 that, “At this point in human history, we feel that spiritually and morally, killing whales cannot be justified.”
The war at sea
The Sea Shepherds were the first animal-and/or-habitat protection organization to respond to the Makah whaling proposal back in 1995, and had maintained an on-the-water vigil at Neah Bay almost continuously since September 1998, attempting to prevent the whale-killing, but were miles away when the killing finally occurred.
Explained the May 17 Sea Shepherd release, “The Sea Shepherd patrol boat Sirenian had gone to the San Juan Islands to refuel and pick up three more small vessels [to replace three the Coast Guard had confiscated] on Sunday night. To evade activists, the Makah went out on an early tide,” instead of later in the day, as they did previously.
Until they learned of the killing, the Sea Shepherds and other protesters were jubilant over their success in preventing a whale-killing on May 15.
As of 8:35 a.m. on the 15th, according to a Sea Shepherd e-mail, “a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration boat, two Coast Guard cutters, three planes, and two helicopters” were “trying to help the Makah to kill whales. A whale was struck once with a harpoon,” but the harpoon glanced off the whale’s tail flukes. The Coast Guard armada was later described as “a large cutter, three 40-foot support craft, two Zodiacs (a motorized inflatable raft), and two helicopters.”
Either way, as Paul Watson said afterward, “It was David against Goliath. The Coast Guard arrested everyone else on the water and seized their boats on every charge they could think of, until The Sirenian and the West Coast Anti-Whaling Society’s boats were the only ones left. But we still prevented the Makah from taking a whale,” during a nine-and-a-half-hour running war of nerves.
The first person arrested was Cheryl Rorabeck-Siler, a high school science teacher from Nehalem, Oregon, who saw the Makah approaching a whale and tried to stay between the whale and the killers on a Jet Ski as other protesters sped to the scene from the temporary anti-whaling headquarters at Seiku, 18 miles away. Rorabeck-Siler and her husband Bret Siler were arrested and fined for similar actions against the desultory Makah whaling effort of October and November 1998.
The action heated up at 10:10 a.m., according to a series of Sea Shepherd dispatches, when “a Sea Shepherd Zodiac got between a whale and the Makah canoe,” where it “blocked a harpoon shot. The Zodiac chased off the kill boat. Sea Shepherd activists Lisa Distefano and Alison Lance were arrested, charged with gross negligence, and released,” facing up to a year in prison each and fines of $5,000. “Their Zodiac was seized. Sea Shepherd supporter Scott Hopper was taken into custody,” the Sea Shepherd account continued. Hopper’s boat also was seized.
By 11:10 a.m., the Coast Guard was enforcing a moving exclusionary zone of 500 feet from the Makah vessels.
“The Makah have failed in numerous attempted harpoon strikes,” the Sea Shepherds reported. “One shot from their
.50-caliber machine gun was fired at a diving whale. Two members of the Sea Defense Alliance were charged with coming too close to a whale. Their boat was seized, but they came back with another boat.”
Complained Makah whaling captain Wayne Johnson to news media, “They’re harassing the whale.” Responded Paul Watson, “These guys want to blow a whale apart with a .50-caliber gun, and are concerned that we might get
too close to a whale?”
Exactly how many shots the Makah fired on May 15 was later disputed. Elaborated the Sea Shepherds on the evening of the 15th, “Early in the morning, the whalers, trying for a quick kill with no media present, dispensed with the harpoon and fired their anti-tank gun at a whale. The shot missed. After media arrived, the Makah did not fire the weapon again, and denied having done so, although Sea Shepherd photographers videotaped the hunters firing the gun.
The Sirenian found two dead sea lions in the water, presumed to have been victims of Makah target practice”–though the Makah are scarcely the only fishers on Puget Sound who are known to kill sea lions when able, as alleged rivals in catching fish. The May 15 skirmishes came four days after the arrests of Sea Defense Alliance activists Jacob Conroy, 23, and Joshua Harper, 24, by Clallam County sheriff’s deputies, for investigation of alleged assault. Conroy and Harper were accused of throwing smoke bombs, shooting flares, shouting threats, and spraying fire extinguishers
at the Makah crew, soon after the Makah made their first attempt to spear a whale. SeDnA spokesperson Jonathan Paul countered that the Makah had wrongly accused them of having weapons aboard their vessel, The Bulletproof.
The Sea Shepherds missed that fracas, as The Sirenian was en route to Seattle for repairs, while a larger Sea Shepherd vessel, the Whales Forever, scheduled to sail to Iceland to protest the Icelandic announcement of a resumption of commercial whaling, was disabled by an engine problem and inability to obtain replacement
parts. ANIMAL PEOPLE had observed earlier in May that apparent Native American lookouts seemed to have the Sea Shepherd docking area at Friday Harbor under constant surveillance.