Date: Sat, 12 Dec, 1998


The News Tribune Tacoma, WA
By: Peggy Andersen; The Associated Press

NEAH BAY - The Makah Tribe's new whaling captain said Friday he will step up the pace of practice runs and other preparations for the tribe's first gray whale hunt in decades.

Wayne Johnson said his first official act was to apply for a 10-day whaling permit, the fourth issued by the tribe since it was cleared to whale Oct. 1.

"The canoe will be more active than it has been," said Johnson, 45, who plans practice paddles in Strait of Juan de Fuca and in the Pacific, just west of Neah Bay. The eight-man crew also will make practice approaches to grays in the strait, though the hunt-management plan worked out with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration restricts the hunt to ocean waters.

The crew is now better organized and fully equipped with wetsuits, two-way radios and other gear, Johnson said.

The Makah Whaling Commission chose Johnson over three other candidates for the unpaid post on a vote Thursday night. He succeeds Eric Johnson, a young father who resigned as captain due to family concerns.

After a morning news conference, Wayne Johnson asked his sister, Yvonne Burkett, if she would serve as his cook after the whale is taken. In that role, she would oversee the butchering of the huge mammal on one of the Makah beaches.

The Makahs have not set out to intercept the southbound gray whale migration since they've been cleared to whale, in part because the migration is later than usual this year.

Whaling-crew members will be working this weekend with weapons expert Dr. Allen Ingling of Lanham, Md., a University of Maryland veterinarian.

Ingling, who also has worked with Alaska's Inuit people on tools for their bowhead whale hunts, has brought modified bullets for two high-powered rifles the Makahs intend to use.

The tribe's whaling plan calls for a ceremonial harpoon strike from a 32-foot cedar canoe, followed by rifle fire from motorized chase boats.

The goal is a quick, humane kill, and Ingling is trying to ensure that. A clean shot just behind the blowhole should sever the spinal cord and kill the whale instantly, he says.

This weekend, the Makahs will test their .50-caliber rifle - a 30-pound, single-shot, shoulder-held version of an anti-tank weapon - and a bolt-action .577 rifle, characterized as an elephant gun, that can fire three rounds without reloading.

Ingling and the crew will test-fire new round-tipped bullets into a 20-foot-long water-filled tank to determine their accuracy.

They previously tried pointed bullets, which tended to tumble.
"A tumbling bullet loses energy immediately," Ingling said.
"It also does not follow a true path; it tends to follow the path of least resistance."

The new rounds, developed by Jim Schmidt of Arizona Ammunition in Phoenix, also pack more power than commercially available bullets, Ingling said.

Schmidt became interested in the Makah project and is not charging for his experimentation in developing the rounds, which will cost the Makahs $6 each, he said.

A-Square Co. of Kentucky, which custom-makes .577s, has offered to move the Makah project to the head of the line if the tribe needs an additional rifle.

Ingling is to present a paper on humane kills when the International Whaling Commission meets in the spring.

At its Thursday meeting, the whaling commission also decided to consider candidates for a new job with the responsibility of coordinating whaling operations among the crew, the commission and the tribal council.

The commission also plans to hire a community liaison - a sort of go-between to smooth communications with the community and interested outside parties, said Keith Johnson, president of the whaling commission, who groused that he got only one vote in the balloting for whaling captain.

Wayne, Eric and Keith Johnson are not directly related. Five families took the name Johnson in the 19th century when white administrators, who found the Makah language difficult, insisted tribal members adopt European names.

The Makahs are guaranteed the right to whale by their 1855 treaty. The hunts stopped in the 1920s after commercial whaling decimated global whale populations.

The tribe moved to resume the hunts after gray whales were removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994. The U.S. government supported the Makahs before the International Whaling Commission and has defended the hunt in court.

Anti-whaling groups fear the tribal hunt will lead to a renewal of commercial whaling. They also contend the hunt has not been sanctioned by the IWC. A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. role in the hunt, and the plaintiffs have appealed the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

(Copyright © 1998)

Back to MENU

Whales in Danger Information Service