Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. IX No. 3 - July 2000


Makah Whaling: Appeal Wins

By William Rossiter, CSI President


The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on 9 June suspended by a 2-1 decision federal approval of the Makah whale hunt, ordering a new study of environmental risks. The full text of the ruling on the "Metcalf v. Daley" suit can be found on the court's website (http://www.ce9.uscourts.gov/). In the majority opinion, the court said the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had violated the law by failing to conduct a review that was timely, objective and "in good faith, not an exercise in form over substance". A new Environmental Assessment (EA) was ordered "under circumstances that ensure an objective evaluation free of the previous taint". The court found that NMFS had promised the Makah help to gain approval for the hunt from the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The judges said that commitment to the tribe biased the agency, which began the environmental review with a foregone conclusion. The court asked that the hunt be suspended while the NMFS reviews its environmental consequences. The ruling is a statement about the importance of unbiased, vigorous governmental review.

The Northwest regional office of the NMFS will conduct a new EA, which will face intense scrutiny in part because for many months an increasing number of gray whales have stranded from Mexico to Alaska. Evidence continues to build that global warming may have altered the prey availability or distribution in the gray whales' summer feeding areas, with the potential that more whales are undernourished and candidates for immune suppression, reproductive failures, and disease. The whales' benthic feeding habits may place them under greater risk of ingestion of toxins and pollutants. A new EA should take these factors into account.

This spring, before the court ruling, the Makah went on nine hunts and threw seven harpoons. Although at least one harpoon hit a whale it was officially not considered a strike; just another example of the back bending by the government. Another far more astonishing example was the excessive zeal and near deadly force used by the U.S. Coast Guard. Having declared an exclusionary zone around the whalers for reasons of public safety the USCG seriously injured some protesters and confiscated boats that tried, illegally, to protect the whales. Only luck kept people from dying. Although budget cuts curtailed USCG operations in many parts of the U.S., the Makah protection fleet just grew. Meanwhile, a report from Citizens Against Government Waste found that the Administration has spent 4.7 million dollars of U.S. taxpayers' money to support Makah whaling.

NOTE: This article as published in Whales Alive! failed to give credit to the people who brought the lawsuit and the successful appeal. The lawsuit was initiated by Sue Arnold of Australians for Animals, with the assistance of D. J. Schubert, the public interest law firm of Meyer and Glitzenstein in Washington D.C., Breach Marine Protection, the Great Whales Foundation, U.S. Congressman Jack Metcalf, and others.


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