A Planned Whale Hunt?

from Pati Zimmerman

Dear Friends,

Does it seem as odd to all of you as it does to me, that in a time when citizens from Oregon and Iceland are joining together to support (financially, environmentally, and emotionally) the transfer and eventual release of Keiko the whale (Free Willy), that the Makah Indian Tribe in Washington (Neah Bay) are planning a "whale hunt?"

They are planning to use traditional canoes - AND MOTOR BOATS, HIGH POWERED HARPOON GUNS, AND A 50 CALIBER RIFLE (Oregonian, 8/21/98, Section B, pp. 1 & 8) - to kill 5 migrating gray whales! Why? Not because their tribe *needs* the meat, skins or oil as in earlier times, but because they wish to maintain the long standing cultural heritage of their tribe - whaling. I really doubt that their ancestors would respect this modern day version of whale hunting, nor do I imagine that their ancestors would believe this to be an honorable or correct representation of the tribe's cultural ancestry.

Well, folks this is *NOT* okay with me. While in past eras whaling was indeed part of many tribes "culture of survival," survival is no longer necessary through the killing of whales. Thus, this now feels like a practice of needless violence against a species who has "no voice" in the matter - or at least none that this tribe is hearing. The animals, fish, and birds of the world are already dying in great numbers due to the frank and needless anthropocentrism of man - now we have to go out a make a celebration of it? I think not.

While I personally have great respect for Native American spirituality and cultures, I cannot consider this act to be representative of carrying forth any positive cultural heritage. It is my understanding that Native Americans in the past have always taken (killed) animals, etc. only as needed for survival and then in great respect and deep appreciation of the animal. This wanton act of killing certainly does not seem to be motivated by survival, respect for all of earth's life forms, nor spirituality.

Of course an additional fear here is not just the "5 whales" that the Makau have been "federally approved" to kill, but the precedent being set for many other tribes or indigenous groups worldwide - "because it is part of their cultural heritage." I'm all for celebrating cultural heritage, diversity, and freedom of expression, but not at the expense of innocent life forms. The logic that is being used here is faulty - "Because we have always killed (whatever) we *must* continue to kill." This type of reasoning flies in the face of intellectual, agricultural, environmental and spiritual evolution. And yet, on October 5, 1998, the Makah Indians of Neah Bay, Washington will break State and Federal laws flagrantly and in full view of lawmakers who are doing nothing at this point to stop them. The Makah have scheduled a whale hunt to honor their tribal culture. Part of this 'honoring' includes killing 5 Gray Whales as symbolic of their 'cultural heritage'. Perhaps State and national lawmakers don't care, don't wish to be bothered, or think that this is another situation that Americans either, don't know about, don't care about, or won't bother to protest. It does seem that more and more frequently in our world today our 'laws' are no longer perceived as the important guiding principles of our Nation, but are instead considered to be merely left over icons or symbols of our Nation's and its peoples' once held ideals and values.

If we think that this issue is unimportant, or that after all, we're only talking about 'one tribe' or only 5 Gray whales, I believe we need to analyze the situation more thoroughly and consider the overall impact of this 'scheduled kill'. According to 'Whales in Danger', an Australian enterprise focused on stopping the needless killing of these great marine mammals:

"There is a Moratorium on whaling but since 1993 the slaughter of whales has steadily increased. Slowly at first, a few whales here, a few whales there. Not including Canada and other pirates there will be more than 1600 whales slaughtered this year. Now the Makah Tribe of Washington State is gearing up to slaughter California Gray whales, in the waters of Neah Bay. If the Makah succeed in their efforts to claim treaty rights to kill Gray whales - an action which is illegal for all other US citizens - coastal whaling will break out world wide under the guise of indigenous whaling. Already over a dozen tribes are lined up in Canada waiting to see how the Makah fare. You pull at one thread, and everything starts to come undone.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has NOT recognized the Makah's right. The Makah have bargained a portion of a Russian quota quite outside of the law. By taking a part of an already allocated kill quota doesn't give anyone an absolute right. There are Local, State and National laws to consider. For the Makah Tribe to kill just one whale they will have to break numerous US laws. What a massive breach of faith for your government to defy it's own laws and allow whaling in US waters. In Addition, the agency's authorization and promotion of Makah whaling is arbitrary and capricious, and in contravention of the purposes of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the International Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna (CITES).

What is being done? The US Government is doing NOTHING! The only legal hindrance to the Makah beginning their grisly kill is a lawsuit, filed in Washington DC on October 17, 1997 initiated by "Australians for Animals", (AFA - one of Australia's longest serving wildlife and marine advocacy groups) and Breach Marine Protection (an English marine group). This legal challenge is supported by two US groups Cetacean Society International in Connecticut and the Great Whales Foundation in California but WHERE are all the rest?

We encourage you to support the AFA and Breach lawsuit both morally and financially. It is enormously difficult for two non US grass roots groups to raise the necessary legal fees. The fact that only two US groups have donated funds must surely speak volumes for the damage which has been wreaked on an enormous effort to stop the killing of these wonderful creatures. Believe me when I say. . . This is IMPORTANT. (August, 1998, [Whaledesk] Whales on the Net)

Please send an email and email your friends and associates as well. If we act together and enmasse perhaps our elected officials will utilize our laws to intervene on this planned travesty. At the very least I would imagine that each of us would feel good about spending 10 minutes to try to save these creatures and ultimately many more. If we do nothing, at the very least, 5 more whales will needlessly die in honor of humankind's stupidity. Somehow, I do not feel that this type of stupidity should continue to be honored.

Love and Light,

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