Makah Whaling Could Set a Dangerous Precedent

The Makah tribe of Washington State may be just the politically-correct tool that the oil and natural gas corporations need to set a very dangerous precedent for circumventing the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

Not once since the Marine Mammal Protection Act came into effect in 1972 has there been a waiver to ignore the Act. Corporations, developers, and fishing industries have tried, but there is no precedent as of yet, for granting such a waiver.

Whale hunting in Alaska is allowed because it is a subsistence hunt and it was a subsistence hunt when the MMPA was signed in 1972. It was a subsistence hunt when the United States joined the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1946.

The Makah have not had a subsistence hunt for eighty years. The minority of Makah tribal members lobbying for the hunt are demanding the hunt for reasons of cultural necessity.

There is no provision in the MMPA or in the IWC regulations to allow for whaling for the purpose of cultural necessity.

"If a waiver is granted to the Makah for whatever reason," said Captain Paul Watson, "it will be a precedent and it will be used by other interests (most notably oil and natural gas corporations) to request waivers for the ‘necessity' of oil exploration."

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society opposes the granting of such a waiver in the interests of marine conservation.

"For us, this is not an animal rights issue," said Captain Watson. "It is a conservation issue just as it was in 1998 and 1999 when the Sea Shepherd legally opposed the plans by the Makah to kill a whale for this reason they call cultural necessity."

Captain Watson, who is also a co-founder of the Greenpeace Foundation, disagrees strongly with the recent statement by Greenpeace oceans specialist John Hocevar who said that "no indigenous hunt has ever destroyed whale populations, and looking at the
enormous other threats to whales and putting the Makah whaling in context, it's pretty different."

"Hocevar simply sees this as a few whales being killed, and in his mind, these animals are expendable in the name of promoting a tribal culture. We see it as a dangerous, precedent-setting issue where the Icelanders, Faeroese, Norwegians, Danes, and Japanese can also claim "cultural necessity" to justify their presently illegal whaling practices. Greenpeace, out of fear of being seen as politically incorrect, simply refuses to see the bigger picture, just as they refused to understand the situation five years ago."

"As Hocevar's claim that no indigenous hunt has ever destroyed a whale population," continued Captain Watson, "he is disregarding the extinction of the Atlantic gray whale that was killed off by the indigenous Basque culture. He is disregarding the fact that indigenous people were well represented as harpooners on the American whaling fleets that decimated the great whale populations."

The question one must ask here is why did the United States government provide funding to encourage the Makah to kill whales? Why did the Japanese and Norwegian whaling associations provide money to establish the World Council for Whalers to lobby for indigenous whaling? Why have the Japanese been wining and dining the Makah whaling delegations at the annual IWC meetings? Why is the National Marine Fisheries  Service (NMFS)openly supporting the Makah initiative instead of being neutral as they are required to be under law?  Why did the NMFS okay the whale hunt in 1998 without an environmental assessment when they were specifically requested by citizens groups to do so and they were required by law to do so? And why has Tom Mexis Happynook (who is calling for a whale hunt on Vancouver Island) been a paid consultant for the Japanese whaling industry?

There are a lot of questions here without answers.

There is a bigger picture to be discovered, and that picture has negative implications for consequences to the environment.

Brian Gorman of NMFS told the New York Times that, "They [the Makah] have a treaty right that the U.S. government signed. It doesn't take an international lawyer to figure out that they do have this treaty."

The problem with this statement is that the U.S. government abrogated their treaty when they joined the IWC and did not represent the Makah although they requested and received an IWC exemption for Alaska whale hunters. The other problem with the treaty is that the United States has never shown any willingness to honor the hundreds of treaties they signed with other Native Americans. Why this treaty and why now? What about the land treaty with the Makah? Why is the land treaty not being honored but the treaty killing whales is?

More questions and no answers.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society officially opposes any waiver for the Makah to slaughter whales in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Please learn more about Makah whaling and if you live in the northwest  Washington state, please join us at the upcoming hearings.