Sea Shepherd Report to Makah Hearing October 11th

Sea Shepherd Attends Makah Public Scoping Meeting

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society participated in the third of three public scoping meetings being held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Northwest Region, on Tuesday, October 11th, in Seattle.  We were there to voice our comments and advice on a proposal by the Makah tribe to request a waiver of the MMPA from the NOAA to hunt up to 20 gray whales during a five-year period.

Over 100 people attended this third hearing.

After a period of introduction and a brief overview of the history of the events related to the Makah's whaling activities and an educational presentation on the grey whale we were divided into seven focus groups.

Each group was to add input to the evaluation for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) being developed by the NOAA.  Each group consisted of animal rights activists, concerned citizens, and members of the Makah tribe.

This was not an opportunity to make position statements, or to debate positions, but to lend our assistance to the NOAA in their efforts to complete their EIS - to discuss resources to be analyzed and alternative options to the hunt as proposed.

Although the Makah, in each group that I participated in, continually stressed their rights under their Treaty of Neah Bay, signed in 1855, our moderators continually brought us back to discuss the resources to be analyzed by the EIS and discuss and suggest different alternatives to the proposed hunt.

Resources included geology and soil, air, water quality, fish species and habitat, wildlife, general vegetation, socioeconomics/tourism, Tribal Treaty Rights and Federal Trust Responsibilities, Environmental Justice, cultural resources, noise, aesthetics, transportation, public service, human health and safety.

The four alternatives proposed are Alternative 1: No Action; Alternative 2: The Proposed Action, Alternative 3: Modifications to the proposed action limiting number of kills; Alternative 4; Modification of the proposed action to remove time and area restrictions; Alternative 5; Modification to the proposed action to allow hunting to target migrating whales, imposing time and area restrictions different than those contained in the proposed action).

Tensions were high and there were some heated discussions - primarily based off of the identical rhetoric used by the Makah in each group who where strategically distributed saying that their treaty rights (based on the Treaty of Neah Bay signed in 1855) where the final word and that these efforts where an exercise in futility.

Written comments were also accepted. Paul Watsons comments, Linda Fishers comments, and "12 reasons to oppose the plans by the Makah", written by Captain Watson, were discussed in our groups and left as written comments.

All discussion and written comments were to be returned to committee and added to the previous two meetings.

There is a fourth public scoping meeting which will be held on October 18th, in Silver Springs, Maryland.  For more information contact

The EIS is due out in the fall of 2006.

The following letter from Captain Paul Watson was discussed and left as public comment on the scoping meeting:

My apologies for not being here to address this hearing in person. I am presently in the Galapagos working on anti-shark poaching and illegal fishing issues.

However, as the president of an organization that was very high profile in the media during the confrontations over Makah whaling, I think it is important that our views be heard.

We appreciate that this is a complex issue, and there are many organizations with diverse concerns that oppose the proposal to kill whales in the waters of a National Marine Sanctuary off Washington State.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, however, does have some specific concerns with reference to this proposal and we intend to stay focused on these concerns.

There are other organizations that are addressing the cruelty involved with killing a large socially-complex intelligent sentient mammal. These organizations are representing this position with both facts and compassion.

The points that Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will focus on are specifically the status of this proposed whale hunt under international conservation law.

As is stands now, the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which is the recognized international body that defines international regulations conserving whales, has not sanctioned this specific whaling operation.

The quota that the Makah cite as being granted to them by the IWC was, in fact, a quota assigned to the aboriginal communities in Russia. The United States and Russia traded Yupik bowhead quotas with the Russians for gray whale quotas that they then assigned to the Makah.

This trading took place outside the regulations of the IWC.

The fact remains that the Makah were never specifically assigned a quota for gray whales by the International Whaling Commission nor were they given an exemption under the rules governing aboriginal whaling.

Specifically, these rules state that aboriginal hunting must be for subsistence purposes and by an indigenous community where there is an unbroken tradition of whaling.

The Makah have not demonstrated subsistence need and their whaling tradition was broken very early in the 20th Century.

There is no provision within IWC regulations for what the Makah refer to as "cultural need."

When the United States joined the IWC in 1946 they did not represent the Makah, whereas they did present a case for aboriginal whaling by tribes in Alaska. Alaska whaling is thus legal under IWC regulations. The U.S. did not represent the Makah because the Makah did not request representation and because the Makah were not an active whaling community at that time.

The Makah claim of a treaty right to hunt whales is a claim backed by a treaty between the Makah and the United States. However, when the United States became a signatory of the International Whaling Commission, the U.S.A. agreed to abide by the regulations of the IWC.

An international agreement such as being signatory to the IWC takes precedence over a bi-lateral treaty between two nations. Thus, the Makah/U.S.A. treaty is abrogated by the U.S.A. joining the International Whaling Commission and agreeing to abide by IWC regulations.

Sea Shepherd would be satisfied if the Makah can produce a document from the IWC stating that the Makah are specifically exempt from the aboriginal regulations and that a specific quota has been set for the Makah.

This is the document we requested in 1998 and it is the document that we contend must be granted in order for the Makah whale hunt to be legal under international conservation law.

It should be noted that Sea Shepherd did not violate any laws of the United States in 1998 and 1999 while exercising our constitutional right to peacefully oppose the activities of the Makah which we view as illegal under international conservation law.

Sea Shepherd is also concerned that documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in 1998 demonstrated that the original plan for whaling by the Makah involved plans for commercial sale of the whale meat to foreign buyers. The Makah, through their spokesperson David Sones, stated in 1995 that they reserved their right to do so.

Since these documents were made public, we understand that the Makah no longer are planning a commercial sale of whale meat, but this is a possibility that must be addressed in any determination regarding whaling activities.

In brief, the position of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is simply that we request that this proposed hunt be authorized as legal under the regulations of the IWC before any decision can be made under U.S. law to legalize the kill in American waters.

The United States as a signatory to the IWC is obligated to abide by the international regulations of the IWC. Any decision to legalize a whale hunt outside of the IWC without IWC authorization would be a breach of the obligations that the United States agreed to abide by when the U.S. joined the IWC in 1946.

The United States is bound by international treaty to abide by these regulations and this treaty takes precedence over the bi-lateral treaty between the U.S. and the Makah nation.

We trust that this question of the U.S. obligations to the IWC will be taken seriously and that the authorization by the IWC should be a condition for legalizing any whale kills within U.S. waters.

Finally, our concern is that if the Makah establish a precedent for killing whales for cultural need because they are an aboriginal people, this same argument will be used by the Japanese, Icelanders, Norwegians, and others who will also be able to claim cultural necessity based on the fact that they also are aboriginal peoples in their own nations. This would be a precedent that could also have dangerous implications for the exploitation of all wildlife species.

The bush meat trade in Africa could be defended as a cultural necessity. The killing of eagles for feathers by other tribes, the slaughter of rhinos for dagger handles by the Arab nations, the killing of bears for their gall bladders by the Chinese. The list is endless.

The United States has a serious responsibility to not be responsible for setting in motion a precedent that can have grave consequences for wildlife species all around the world.

Thank-you for this opportunity to present our views.


Captain Paul Watson
President and Founder
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society


More information about Makah whaling