Special Action Alert - Makah Whaling

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The Makah Trible have only killed 1 whale

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Makah Whaling is Illegal

By Michael Markarian and Naomi A. Rose

In May 1999, a young female whale slowly died off the Washington coast after being shot three times - once with a harpoon and twice with a high-powered .50-caliber rifle. Although her species, the Eastern Pacific gray whale, was removed from the endangered list only nine years ago, the Makah tribe had sought for most of that time to resume hunting these majestic mammals.

But in December, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the whale hunt was flagrantly illegal, and could have devastating impacts on the resident whales of Puget Sound, as well as set the stage for additional whale killing around the world.

In response to a lawsuit filed by The Fund for Animals, The Humane Society of the United States, and other plaintiffs, the court determined that the federal government violated environmental laws when it granted a quota for the Makah to kill up to five whales per year.

While the Makah and their attorneys have stated in the media that this ruling will have damaging implications for Native American treaty rights across the board, this is simply not the case.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1972, is a powerful environmental law that prohibits the hunting of whales. The law included a special provision allowing subsistence hunts for Native Alaskans, due to their continuing reliance on marine mammal hunting in sub-Arctic and Arctic villages. Other Native hunts such as the Makah's, culturally based rather than for subsistence, were given no such provision.

The Makah have always maintained that the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay expressly preserves their right to whale, but the treaty did so "in common with all citizens of the United States." The appeals court ruled, therefore, that the tribe "has no unrestricted right to pursue whaling in face of the MMPA," but rather that "the MMPA's application is necessary to effectuate the conservation purpose of the statute" and "is consistent with the language of the Neah Bay Treaty."

In other words, the ruling does not negate treaty rights, but rather upholds the longstanding precedent that treaty rights can be restricted for conservation purposes. If the tribe wants to hunt whales, it must first apply for and receive a waiver under the MMPA.

The government also violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing - twice - to analyze adequately the environmental impacts of the whale hunt.

Its first environmental assessment was prepared after the government had already decided to grant a whale-hunting quota to the Makah, leading the court of appeals in June 2000 to call this "a classic Wonderland case of first-the-verdict, then-the-trial" and to order the government to conduct a new study prior to making a decision.

The revised assessment was even worse because it expanded the hunt, allowing the Makah to target a small group of 30 to 50 resident whales that do not migrate to polar regions but rather remain in the Puget Sound area throughout the summer - many of which are known to local whale-watching companies. The court in December noted the scientific concerns about this small group of animals and their ecological importance to the Puget Sound area, and halted the hunt until the government conducts a far more thorough analysis.

Moreover, the Makah went more than 70 years without hunting whales, and do not have a true subsistence need to hunt these animals. The International Whaling Commission, which bans commercial whaling but allows some Native subsistence hunts, has a very strict definition of aboriginal subsistence whaling - and has never recognized the Makah's subsistence-whaling claim.

The commission does recognize the claim of the Siberian natives of Chukotka, and therefore has set a quota for hunting gray whales - but the U.S. government's unilateral decision to allow the Makah to hunt these whales has remained controversial among commission members.

Americans decided long ago that hunting whales for commercial, recreational and other non-subsistence purposes is simply unacceptable. Allowing the Makah tribe to hunt even a small number of whales for "cultural" reasons sets a dangerous precedent for allowing other "cultural" whale hunts around the world. Japanese, Norwegian and some Native hunters are just waiting for the chance to reopen commercial whaling under the guise of culture, and the Japanese have already pointed to the Makah hunt as illustrative of American duplicity on this issue.

We must oppose all non-subsistence whale hunting, regardless of whether the whale hunters are European, Asian, Native American or any other ethnicity.

We respect the culture and treaty rights of the Makah, but insist that our federal government must respect domestic environmental laws and international treaty obligations to protect whales. Our federal agencies should stop wasting tax dollars to promote whale killing in the U.S., and the Makah - many of whom do not support whale hunting - should look toward whale watching and other humane opportunities to benefit from the presence of whales in Puget Sound.

Michael Markarian is the president of The Fund for Animals, which is based in New York City
Naomi A. Rose is the marine mammal scientist for The Humane Society of the United States, based in Washington, D.C. - February, 2003


9th June, 2000

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals directs the district court to order the Federal Defendants to suspend implementation of the Agreement with the Makah Tribe, begin the NEPA process afresh, and prepare a new EA.

Court Transcript

Makah wound young Gray whale


SEND an INSTANT Email Protest


Phone, fax, write and email the people listed below and tell them how unlawful and senseless the Makah whale hunt (slaughter) is.


President of USA:

Vice Persident:

Send copies to:
The President of the U.S.A.
1600 Pennsylvania Ave,
Washington, DC 20500

White House Comment Line
Tel: 202-456-1111

White House Fax Line
Fax: 202-456-2461

US Capitol Switchboard
Tel: 202-224-3121

Dr. James Baker, Administrator,
National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration,
Herbert C. Hoover Building,
Room 5128,
14th and Constitution Avenue., NW
Washington, DC 20230
email: D.James.Baker@noaa.gov

Tel/fax: 202 408-9674

The Makah Tribal Council,
Hubert Markishtum,
Tribal Chairman,
P.O. Box 115,
Neah Bay,
WA 98357

Tel: 360 645-2201
Tel: 360-645-2788

William Daley
Secretary of Commerce
1315 East West Hwy.
Silver Springs, MD 20190-3232
Tel: 202-482-6076

Mary Beth West
Deputy Asst.Secretary
Oceans & Environmental
Affairs Department of State
2201 C. Street NW
Washington, DC 20510
Tel: 202-647-2396
Fax: 202-647-0217

The Hon. Jim Buck
House of Representatives
406 John L. O'Brien Bldg.
Olympia, WA 98504-0600

The Hon. Slade Gorton
U.S. Senate
Washington DC 20510
Tel: 202-224-3441

The Hon. Patricia Murray
U.S. Senate
Washington DC 20510
Tel: 202-224-2621
Fax: 202-224-0238

News Updates

19May15 - Gray Whales Future Not Secure

11Mar15 - Whales Must Be Protected in U.S. Waters

25Oct02 - Groups to Argue Appeal in Makah Hunt Case

20Jul02 - Whaling Panel gives Makah 5 More Years to Hunt

16Apr02 - Injunction Sought to Halt Tribe's Spring Hunt

10Jan02 - Whale Advocates Sue to Stop Expanded Makah Hunt

21Oct01 - Makah Tribe Plans whale Hunt

02Feb01 - Public hearing to focus on Makah whaling

13Jan01 - U.S. drafts new evaluation of Makah whaling

09Jun00 - Anti-whaling Victory for Gray Whales

29Apr00 - Legality of Makah Whale Hunt a Gray Area

21Apr00 - Protester Injured as Makah continue Whale Hunt

18Apr00 - Makahs Return to the Sea for Whale Hunt

02Nov99 - Next Hunt Won't be Easy for Makah


17May99 - A Whale for the Killing (A young Gray whale Dies)

11May'99 - May 10-11th Daily Local Reports

10May99 - Makah Harpoon Misses First Whale

12Mar99 - Marine Resources Committee opposes Makah Whale Hunt

09Mar99 - An open letter to all Indian Nations

02Mar99 - Makah Officer Charged with Assault

19Feb99 - Small Makah Force will Keep the Peace

12Dec98 - Makah Apply for Fourth Whaling Permit

01Dec98 - No Deal to Stop Hunt, say Makah


On May 17, 1999 a juvenile whale, no older than 3 years old, swam through the Olympic National Marine Sanctuary on its northerly migration towards Alaska. It spotted an unusual object in the water and approached it curiously, sticking its head out of the water to get a better look. It was then that the whale was run over, had multiple harpoons thrust into its back, and shot 3 times in the head with a .50 caliber anti-tank weapon.

This one act of violence brought whaling back to the coastal United States. One year later the Makah Nation, located on the Olympic Peninsula in WA, are back on the water, promising to kill 5 whales in hopes to bring tradition, culture, and a feeling of self-worth back to their reservation. What they actually are doing is violating international law, using millions of taxpayer dollars, and breaking a restored trust between human and whale. The idea that the US government is finally honoring native treaty rights is a far grasp from the truth. The US to this day is ignoring treaties, removing natives from the homelands (such as the Dineh at Big Mountain, AZ), poisoning their waters, and continuing 500 years of genocide. On top of that the Japanese government is manipulating the Makah in order to allow more worldwide whaling.

The debate over the Makah whale hunt is a fierce one - a debate that has torn environmental, animal liberation and native struggle communities apart.

But the facts remain. On April 29th, 2000 the Secretary to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) Dr. Ray Gambell stated,
"You will not find anywhere a formal statement from the IWC that the Makah whale hunt is legal, since it has not made such a determination."

However, the Makah claim, being a sovereign nation, is not a member of the IWC, and therefore is not obligated to be held to their ruling. Their tradition of killing whales is one that runs as far back as 1,500 years, and should be honored as such. One with such an anthropocentric view forgets to remember that the whales traditional migration from Baja California, Mexico up to Alaska dates back millions of years before the Makah were ever hunting them. If we are going to honor traditions involving the exploitation of sentient creatures, why not honor clitoridectomies and slavery as well?

Spring Campaign 2000

Ocean Defense International (ODI), an all volunteer, all vegan, direct action organization dedicated to ending the exploitation of marine life, have taken to the water to prevent the killing of these creatures under the guise of culture and tradition. Using various tactics often used successfully during hunt sabs, ODI has halted the Makah's attempts at killing a whale. However, the Makah whalers have an unusual ally, the United States Coast Guard. During whaling activities a moving exclusionary zone (MEZ) is set up to protect all boaters from danger. This zone of 500 yards, is primarily set up to protect people from the anti tank gun (with a range of up to 9 miles) while it is being fired from a small boat being tossed around by the ocean. Anyone found entering the zone would be charged with a felony for doing so. The enforcement of this zone, by the Coast Guard, is costing the US taxpayer over 4 million dollars.

On April 17th, 2000 the vessel 'Tiger' of the organization World Whale Police, rounded a rock pillar off the coast, and found themselves under attack by the US Coast Guard. The whalers were underway, and the MEZ had been established. The Coast Guard, threatened by the presence of non-violent protestors, attacked the vessel, according to the Coast Guard, outside of the zone. After their 41 ft aluminum utility boat played a game of high speed chicken with the protestor's 22 ft fiberglass boat, as well as stalling their zodiacs in front of 'Tiger' in hopes of instigating a hit - the Coast Guard rode its hard bottomed zodiac on top of the protest vessel. The aluminum hull smashed the glass and ripped open the roof. Afterwards the World Whale Police was rammed one more time, the final strike by the large 41 ft utility boat, pouring water in through the smashed glass, nearly sinking the boat, and breaking the tailbone of crewmember Julie Woodyer and leaving her with a concussion. The Coast Guard blew the incident off as a common 'shouldering' technique often used.

On April 20th , activists again took to the water along with the Makah whalers and the Coast Guard. ODI crewmember Erin Abbott found her self on the receiving end of lethal force used against non-violent protestors. The Coast Guard alleges she entered the zone, often seen as a form of civil disobedience, and felt she was in 'violation of federal law'. The aluminum hulled zodiac, travelling 35 - 40 knots, targeted in on a 9 ft jet ski, and after realigning themselves 3 separate times, they hit her square in the back, and ran her over. She surfaced mere feet from their razor sharp rudders and spinning propellers, bearly escaping death. As sharp pain shuttered through her and she forced herself to breathe, she yelled for help. The occupants of the whaling crew only laughed at her, and the Coast Guard stared at her, leaving her floating in the water. After minutes of waiting, the zodiac returned to attempt to drag her out of the water by the arm she explained suffered intense pain. She was medivac'ed to the nearest hospital where she would spend 5 days surrounded by armed guards while recovering from a shoulder blade broken into 2 pieces, broken ribs, and monitoring in case her lungs collapsed. It was here that the armed guards contemplated on whether or not she should be allowed clothes.

The Coast Guard referred to the incident as an 'accident' but they were 'enforcing the law', Commander Costner who spearheads the MEZ enforcement remarked "I still get my paycheck" and Keith Johnson, Makah Tribal Chairman, applauded the Coast Guard's efforts as, after all, she was breaking the law.

The Coast Guard, FBI, and local authorities suggest this use of force is necessary due to the nature of the activists. They spill fears of 'activists from the WTO', 'anarchists', and 'militant activists' instead of protestors, taking to the waters to prevent violence. It appears authorities have stepped up their violent aggressions against those who choose to defend the natural world from exploitation, and it seems to only be getting worse. From swabbing pepper spray in the eyes in CA to beating protestors in Seattle and DC, to running them over at high rates of speed - activists, along with the earth and the animals, are under attack.

The Future

Now that the peak of the migration of the gray whale has passed through the Olympic National Marine Sanctuary, mostly transient mothers with calves or resident whales remain. Although the Makah's own management plan states they will not hunt calves, mothers with calves, or resident whales, the harpoon is still hurled at any whale that gets near the canoe, mostly whales not more than a year old. Keith Johnson continues to dispute the fact that resident whales exist.

Ocean Defense International remains committed to the protection of animals and eco-systems from the exploitation of all humans, with the hope the natural world can return to a sustainable level, and once again, flourish.

By Jake Conroy & Jonathan Paul - oceandefense2000@hotmail.com
Ocean Defense International - http://www.safepassing.org/odi

Join Us

Lies that led to the killing of a Gray whale in a United States Marine Sanctuary

The News Release (below) that was circulated to the World news media had several glaring untruths.

Incorrect: "The International Whaling Commission today adopted a quota that allows a five-year aboriginal subsistence hunt of an average of four non-endangered Gray whales a year for the Makah Indian Tribe. . ."

The gray whale catch limit adopted at the 49th Annual Meeting in Monaco is the number of whales which may be taken from the stock concerned. There is no mention of who may do the taking, and it is understood by the Commission that if more than one operation seeks to utilise the resource, they will reach agreement outside the Commission on any local allocation.

Misleading: "The commission adopted the combined quota by consensus, thereby indicating its acceptance of the United States' position that the Makah Tribe's cultural and subsistence needs are consistent with those historically recognized by the IWC."

While subsistance needs have been fully recognised by the IWC it has never accepted cultural or traditional reasons for adopting quotas. In fact, during the 1997 IWC meeting the very same Makah application was rejected totally.

During the 1998 meeting there is no reference made in the Schedule amendment as to who shall recognise the traditional aboriginal subsistence and cultural needs. This position is reflected in the Chairman's Report to the 49th Annual Meeting when "..a broad consensus was reached to accept the amendment of Schedule paragraph 13(b)(2).. This included the addition of the wording.. " whose traditional subsistence needs have been recognised" in the chapeau paragraph, and noting the extensive comments made by delegations in the preceding debate.. (Agenda Item

In simple terms: The IWC does NOT recognise the Makah Tribe. The Gray whale quota is a yearly maximum of 140 averaged at 124 (ie. a total catch of 620 whales is allowed for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 with a maximum of 140 in any one year) but the IWC accepted the position that more than one group may utilise the quota. The IWC did not say that the Makah had any rights to take a portion of the quota but said all interested (recognised) parties may negotiate amongst themselves.

One thing that must be remembered here is that IWC resolutions DO NOT over-rule national or local laws where applicable. Only one factor was taken into consideration when the US Government authorised the Gray whale killing, the Makah Treaty of 1855, a document written 143 years ago which we are now expected to believe is still relevant today.

As reported . . .


MONACO, 23rd Oct. 1997 The International Whaling Commission today adopted a quota that allows a five-year aboriginal subsistence hunt of an average of four non-endangered Gray whales a year for the Makah Indian Tribe, combined with an average annual harvest of 120 gray whales by Russian natives of the Chukotka region.

A combined quota accommodates the needs of the two aboriginal groups hunting whales from a single stock. The commission adopted the combined quota by consensus, thereby indicating its acceptance of the United States' position that the Makah Tribe's cultural and subsistence needs are consistent with those historically recognized by the IWC. The Makah Tribe, located on the remote northwest tip of Washington state, expects to start its subsistence hunt in the fall of 1998 under government supervision. The Makah quota will not involve commercial whaling.

"The United States has fulfilled its moral and legal obligation to honor the Makah's treaty rights. The right to conduct whaling was specifically reserved in the 1855 U.S.-Makah Treaty of Neah Bay," said Will Martin, alternate U.S. commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, and deputy assistant secretary for international affairs for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Read: The Treaty with the Makah, 1855

The Start of U.S. Coastal Whaling

Lack of any adequate media coverage in most of the US makes it difficult for the average American citizen to have any notion that its Government is not only working hard to allow whales to be killed in its national waters - the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary to be precise - but spending big money to help the Makah start killing.

In a remarkable display of double standards the Clinton Administration voted (1997) to ensure the Californian Gray Whale remain on Appendix I of the CITES treaty. Inclusion in this Appendix prohibits any whaling world wide. Yet the Government is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to allow the killing of same whale in the USA. The only legal hindrance to the Makah beginning their grisly kill is a lawsuit, filed in Washington DC on October 17, 1997. The lewsuit was defeated.

Legally, the US government is way out of line. Not only has the government failed to undertake a proper environmental impact study but a five year monitoring program required under the Endangered Species Act is still months away from completion. Other legal challenges are possible to stop the Makah going killing and those of you who donate funds to US environmental/marine conservation groups might ask why your group is not using the legal system to its fullest extent.

The Front Line

The Sea Shepherds

The Sea Shepherd III, the most visible sign of international environmental opposition to the plans of the Makah Indian tribe to start hunting gray whales, arrived in Neah Bay, Washington, 8:00am Thursday July, 23rd. Helmed by the Society's founder, Captain Paul Watson, the Sea Shepherd III is carrying a rigid-hull high-speed zodiac craft, and will be joined by the Society's coastal patrol vessel at the site of the Makah hunt.

Sea Shepherds Whale Guardians Network

In The Path Of Giants

Tune in on the daily happenings (Heidi's Diary) onboard the vessel Sea Dog at Snow Creek, Northwest of Neah Bay. Find out what Heidi Tiura and Steph Dutton from "In The Path of Giants" have offered the Makah if they don't start whaling.

In The Path Of Giants Website

Further Information

MORE ON THE MAKAH from Australians for Animals

Further Reading

World Whale Police

World Whale Police

The Great American Whale Hunt

The Makah Whaling Dance

Tribal Whaling Poses New Threat

Ocean Defense International

Ocean Defense International

Project Seawolf

Read what people have to say

This Alert was prepared using information gathered and "The Whale Newsletter". To receive a copy of The Whale Newsletter contact: Sue Arnold, Australians for Animals. Ph: +61 02 6684-3769 Fax: +61 02 6684-3768 Postal Address: PO Box 673, Byron Bay, 2481, NSW, Australia.

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