Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. V No. 1 January 1996


by William Rossiter

Picture yourself on a rocky cliff overlooking the grey whipped Pacific off Washington. A few miles out there is a flurry of boats in a moving tangle. The white Coast Guard vessels seem to be running down scurrying private boats, all in turn trying to close on what seems to be a large canoe. In the bow of the canoe stands a young man of the Makah Nation, holding a bomb-headed harpoon. Then you see the blow of a whale, a migrating gray, just ahead of the harpoon. Whaling from the continental U.S. is about to begin, again.

The authorities are trying to control the chartered boats awash with media, all screaming for a closer view, and stop the activists who will not allow the whaling at any cost, apparently willing to risk their lives for the whale. But if the authorities, courts, and whalers prevail the only thing that might save the whale is a fearful escape from the chaotic din. In fact, after years of tourist conditioning, the whale might instead come to the canoe.

IWC quotas, court decisions, government proclamations, and Coast Guard authority will not make this whaling right.

The major environmental organizations whispering their hedged protests to stay clear of political incorrectness will not make this whaling acceptable.

The Makah Nation's treaty and tribal heritage, propelled by the milieu of other issues over Native American resource rights, will not make this whaling ethical.

CSI is opposed to Makah whaling, period. Our position is firmly supported by logic and facts, but we make it on ethical grounds. This is not an issue of Native American versus whale. The Makah don't need to do this. Until the furor ignited tribal pride there may have been only a minority of the Makah who supported whaling, and fewer who would eat the whalemeat. There is no way to fully restore the traditional hunt, which may have included the sacrifice of a slave. There are enormous legal implications of treaty versus treaty. The world has changed.

The repercussions from whaling may not be fully understood by the Makah. The U.S. is going to the IWC to promote the Makah quota, in other words, as a whaling nation. The Japanese and Norwegians are eager to help, and make use of the opportunity. Previous allies are aligning in opposition.

There are alternatives to this extreme method of re-establishing self esteem. We understand the need to survive, as many coastal communities must do by eating dolphins or whales. We honor the need to maintain one's threatened heritage and tradition, as the Makah demand. But this is not about museums, cultural sites, old growth timber, oil, salmon, casinos or seals; this goes too far.

CSI is respectfully involved with a learning dialogue with the Makah, and we are involved in this issue in many ways. Time precluded an article from the Makah perspective, but we hope to include that and further developments in the next "Whales Alive!". Until the harpoon strikes there is time. Then what happens?

Photo of Gray Whale 'Amazing Grace'

The Gray Whale "Amazing Grace". Photo by William Rossiter

Go to next article: International Whaling Commission Update or: Table of Contents.

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