Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VIII No. 3 July 1999

Gray Whale Killed By Makah, CSI Backs Counter-Initiative

by Robbins Barstow, CSI Director Emeritus

On Monday, 17 May 1999, a whaling crew from the Makah tribe of Native Americans at the Neah Bay Reservation in the State of Washington, killed a gray whale.

Despite objections, protests and pleas from whale lovers and environmentalists around the world, the Makah whalers finally succeeded, after months of preparation, in carrying out their death-dealing goal of harpooning and then shooting one of the earth's largest and most revered creatures.

Since the enactment by Congress in 1972 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibiting the killing of whales by American citizens, no whales had been killed in American waters except for a restricted number of bowhead whales taken annually by Alaskan Inuit natives for subsistence purposes specified in the law.

The May 17 take of a gray whale by the Makah, however, was not for subsistence or nutritional purposes. Based upon a treaty with the U.S. government going back to 1855, the Makah have claimed the right to kill whales for traditional, cultural and ceremonial purposes, reverting to a tribal practice of earlier centuries that had not been engaged in since the 1920's.

The killing of the whale was documented with extensive video coverage, with excerpts aired on national network news programs. Not shown on network TV, however, was the disposition of the whale carcass, following its being dragged to shore. A local video taken by representatives of several non-governmental organizations in the early morning hours of May 18 shows that after the initial butchering of the whale, the Makah departed the scene, leaving biologists from the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service to clean up the mess, resulting in significant amounts of whale flesh and blubber being abandoned on the beach.

The Cetacean Society International deeply deplores the tragic killing of this great whale. CSI condemns the role of the United States government in supporting, encouraging and underwriting the exercise by the Makah of their asserted right to slaughter whales. CSI also condemns the duplicitous way in which the U.S. claimed to have secured approval by the International Whaling Commission for a Makah gray whale quota.

CSI respects the Makah's right to cultural and economic self-determination. But if they have a legal and moral right to kill whales, they also have a legal and moral right not to kill them.

And while the United States government has a presumed obligation to protect the Makah's right to whale if they so choose, we believe that our government does not have the obligation to promote and subsidize the killing of whales by the Makah in clear contravention of long-standing United States policy proscribing all whale killing in American waters except for bona fide aboriginal, subsistence purposes.

The Cetacean Society International urges the Clinton Administration immediately to undertake, in cooperation with concerned, non-governmental organizations, a joint new initiative in support of the non-consumptive utilization of whale resources in the North Pacific for the long-term economic benefit of the Makah and other tribes located in Washington state.

Specifically, CSI is proposing the holding of a jointly sponsored REGIONAL CONFERENCE ON THE ECONOMICS OF WHALEWATCHING in the U.S.-Canadian Pacific waters of British Columbia and Washington State, with experienced operators from other parts of the United States and the world providing expertise. Similar conferences conducted in other parts of the world have proved highly effective and productive.

In addition, CSI advocates U.S. government and independent organization support and assistance for promoting and publicizing the non-lethal utilization of whale resources by the Makah, including augmentation of their world-class cultural museum in Neah Bay, the production of documentary films about the tribe and its historic traditions, the establishment of a Makah-based, benign research center for whales, exhibits and sales of native artwork relating to whales, and major public festivals such as the annual "Sitka (Alaska) Whalefest in Celebration of Marine Wildlife."

We believe this has the potential for a cultural and economic renaissance for the Makah, and that everyone involved would be well-served by such a new initiative.

On May 18, 1999, the First Nations Environmental Network issued the following press release. According to their web site at http://www.fnen.org/, the First Nations Environmental Network is a Canadian national organization of individuals, non-profit groups and Indigenous Nations who are actively working on environmental issues. It is an affiliate network of the Canadian Environmental Network.

Press Release: May 18th, 1999.

Re: The Killing of a Grey Whale by Makah at Neah Bay, Washington, U.S.A. on May 17th, 1999.


We are deeply concerned and saddened by the killing of a whale at Neah Bay, Washington by members of the Makah Nation.

There are many implications involved in this and we cannot support this action due to the following:

1) The International Whaling Commission meets this month to determine what is acceptable globally to the world's whale populations and this will have a negative impact on their decision.

2) Japan, Norway, Iceland and other countries are working towards getting commercial whaling approved once again. The Japanese have been lobbying First Nations Peoples on the West Coast and around the world to open the door on 'cultural whaling' which they also claim as a 'right'.

3) The Makah Nation is divided within, with many elders and others speaking against this 'return to Traditional Practices' and their voices are being ignored and suppressed.

4) While we respect Treaty Rights, this is a political reason being used for killing and not a true meaning of need when it comes to the taking of another being's life. Using 'Treaty Rights' in this way may set dangerous precedents.

At this point in human history, we feel that spiritually and morally, the act of killing whales cannot be justified.

For All Our Relations, Steve Lawson
FNEN Representative on West Coast

Go to next article: 51st International Whaling Commission Meeting, May 1999 or: Table of Contents.

© Copyright 1999, Cetacean Society International, Inc.

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