Five Makah Whalers Arrested for Torturing and Killing a Whale

In blatant violation of international and U.S. law, five members of the Makah tribe illegally shot and killed a resident Gray whale on Saturday, September 9, 2007.  The killing took place in the coastal waters off Washington State, near the Makah village of Neah Bay.

According to eye witness accounts, a Gray whale was harpooned at 9:30 am, a quarter mile off Seal and Sail rocks, two miles east of Neah Bay. The whale was apparently shot 22 times and fled towards the sea. The U.S. Coast Guard placed a 1,000 yard safety perimeter around the whale and ordered Makah fishing boats not to enter the zone. Makah fishermen were demanding the whale, despite the fact that five Makah tribal members have now been arrested.  The whale fled westward, trailing a harpoon line attached to yellow floats and a stream of blood from multiple gunshot wounds. It died hours later, some 10 miles west of Neah Bay.

Dave Sallee, a non-Indian fisherman of Forks, Clallam County, said he saw two boats surrounding a Gray whale and pursuing it as it pulled buoys through the water that appeared to be attached to the whale by harpoon lines. Sallee said he heard a total of 21 shots.

Ben Johnson, the tribal chairman, was reached while consulting with the tribe's attorneys. He confirmed that the tribe has been seeking an exemption from the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act so that it could take up to five Gray whales per year. However, Johnson confirmed that the tribe has not yet secured that exemption.

In 1999, the tribe received a permit to whale from the National Marine Fisheries Service, allowing it to hunt on the outer coast of its homeland on the north Olympic Peninsula at Neah Bay. That permit is now tied up in court challenges. But even if it were in force today, if the whale was taken within the Strait of Juan de Fuca, as appears to be the case, the take would be in direct violation of the permit.

The permit also would require the whale to be secured with a harpoon from a traditional canoe before being dispatched with shots from a high-powered rifle. Sallee said he saw no canoe in the water. The canoe, he said, was tied up to one of the motorized boats at the time. This shooting is a violation of Makah tribal law, U.S. federal law, and international law.

The following violations have occurred:

  1. The Makah whalers have not been granted a permit from the Federal Government.
  2. The Makah whalers would not be permitted to take resident whales, even if granted a permit.
  3. The Makah whalers have acted in contempt of the rulings of the 9th Circuit District Court.
  4. The Makah whalers must harpoon the whale from a traditional canoe if granted a permit. They did not.
  5. The Makah whalers are not permitted to use small calibre firearms to shoot the whale.
  6. The Makah whalers were not sanctioned by the Makah tribe.
  7. The Makah whalers have not been sanctioned by the International Whaling Commission

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) will demand that the federal government prosecute these criminal whalers to the full extent of the law. If the federal government fails to prosecute, then SSCS will initiate or join a lawsuit against the government for failure to uphold federal law.

"The men who shot this whale are not traditional whalers," said Captain Paul Watson, founder and president of SSCS. "They are just common criminals, thugs out for a thrill with their guns, and their actions are no different than the cruelty that NFL football star Michael Vick recently pled guilty to. If the government prosecutes Vick for fighting dogs and fails to prosecute these criminals for torturing a whale, then the government will be displaying racist discrimination saying that animal cruelty is justified if the perpetrators are Native American and not black. The bottom line is, these five men knowingly and blatantly pumped 22 shots into a defenceless animal and watched as it fled, bleeding and dragging floats behind it. This whale suffered for hours before finally dying, and there can be no justification for their cruelty and contemptuous indifference to the law."

The killing of this whale by the Makah ranks as one of the most prolonged deaths of any whale killed in modern times. The Japanese have been observed taking up to 40 minutes to kill a whale. The Norwegians were recently documented killing a whale over a period of 15 minutes. The Makah killing took hours and inflicted intense suffering and stress upon the unsuspecting animal.

"There is nothing traditional or respectful about the way this whale was killed," said Captain Watson. "This was a vicious assault on a protected animal in an area off limits to killing whales in blatant violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act by thugs who were not endorsed by their own tribal council. These five men acted illegally and sadistically, and they must be prosecuted for their crime."