The Makah Tribe Must Be Denied a Permit to Kill Whales

The Makah Tribal Council has apologized for the killing of a resident Gray whale by five of their tribal members.

Leaders of the Makah Tribe apologized to federal officials and members of Congress in Washington D.C. on Wednesday September 12th for the unauthorized killing of a resident gray whale off the coast of Washington state.

At separate meetings with the state's senators and officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tribal leaders condemned the illegal whale hunt. Tribal representatives met with the two Washington State Senators Patty Murray (D) and Maria Cantwell (D) and with Representative Norm Dicks (D). Dicks represent the 6th Congressional District which includes Clallam and Jefferson Counties.

Micah McCarty, a tribal council member who attended the meetings, said the hunt "inflamed an already controversial issue." But he said he was optimistic it would not affect the request before NOAA for a waiver to allow ceremonial and subsistence whaling of as many as five whales a year.

"It's a public relations setback," McCarty said at a news conference.

Unfortunately it is more than just a public relations setback. The five men were not just anyone on the water that day pumping 21 bullets into the surprised whale. If that were the case the apology from the Makah would be accepted without question. The Tribe can't be expected to control every person with a criminal intent and the fact is that this shooting was not authorized by the tribe. The tribe is not responsible for the illegal shooting.

But the tribe is responsible for the selection and training of their whaling crew and two of the five men involved with this crime were none other than Wayne Johnson, the captain of the whaling crew and Theron Parker, the man who first harpooned the young Gray whale in Makah Bay in 1999. Another one of the five, Andy Noel is a Makah whaling commissioner. The other two were Billy Secor and Frank Gonzales.

These five made total fools of themselves by displaying gross incompetence with their inability to properly hunt a whale.

What this means is that the Makah Tribal Council has absolutely no control over their own officially selected whalers and whaling commissioners. Not only were the five men in violation of international law and U.S. Federal law, they were also in violation of the laws of the Makah nation.

This case demonstrates that the Makah Tribal Council is not responsible enough to be given a permit to kill five whales a year.

Both Parker and Johnson have spent three years traveling to Russia to "learn" humane killing techniques. The average time it takes to kill a whale by the Russian aboriginal hunters is 16 minutes. This is bad enough but the whale that Parker and Johnson shot with 21 bullets from a .458 caliber rifle took over 10 hours to die.

These men knew that they would never be permitted to kill a resident whale and they knew that they would not be allowed to hunt whales in the Strait of Juan de Fuca yet they approached the easiest and most docile whale they could find in an area that did not involve much work to get to.  Wayne Johnson made the ridiculous comment that "the whale came to us and gave himself to us."

The truth is that this resident whale was calmly feeding close to shore when the motor boat with the armed men onboard approached. The whale had no warning and because the whales have not been molested since 1999 it had no reason to fear the approaching boat.

"This was a vicious cowardly act," said Captain Paul Watson. "They did not use the traditional canoe, they did not undertake the proper cleansing rituals and they did not approach the whale with respect or in the traditional manner. They did not have the blessing of their Elders.  They were five thugs in a boat with underpowered rifles wanting to vent their frustrations on a defenseless creature."

Things have not gone so well for the whalers since they slaughtered a baby Gray whale back in 1999. Last year Theron Parker was soundly criticized for his involvement with a fatal canoe accident. Billy Secor was involved in an incident where he held his wife hostage at gunpoint and Wayne Johnson has a record of assault and was once ordered to attend anger management classes by the court.

Wayne Johnson has also said that he does not feel that the Makah need to use traditional boats and harpoons. "It's about killing the whale," he said in 1999 and added, "if nothing else we pissed off the white man."

At the IWC meeting in Anchorage in May of this year, Wayne Johnson told Captain Paul Watson that he was looking for a Humpback to kill. "Why eat hamburger (referring to the Gray whale) when we can eat steak (referring to the Humpback). When Captain Watson informed Johnson that the Humpback was endangered and protected, Johnson replied that such things meant nothing to him. "We are Makah and we can do what we want with the whales. We have the right to kill them all if we so choose." 

With men of this character heading their whaling crews, the Makah have demonstrated that they are not responsible enough to manage a whaling operation that could see five whales killed each year.

So far, neither the U.S. Federal government nor the Makah Tribal Courts have laid any charges against the five.

On Monday, Tribal Council member Micah McCarty told federal officials that the five men will face charges in Makah Tribal Court and will face penalties for violating the tribe's whaling management plan governing how the tribe hunts a whale. He also said he hoped that the five men would not face federal charges if the tribe prosecutes them.

"My impression is our system has the respect of all those concerned so far, we know there's probably concurrence, although the federal process takes longer. My hope is they will consider the actions of our court," McCarty said.

The problem is that no charges have been filed and if charges are filed the opinion on the reservation is that the Makah Courts would never convict the five for killing the whale because the defendants will use their treaty rights as a defense forcing the Makah to make a judgment on their own treaty rights.

"These five men are either part of a sophisticated scheme to test the system or they have opened up a sea of trouble for the Makah Nation," said Captain Paul Watson. "I can't see the Makah courts convicting them and if they do not then it will be a free for all with every Makah tribal member with a gun free to shoot at whales anytime they so desire.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society believes that the United States Federal government must bring charges against these five men for violating U.S. Federal laws.

"To place these men above the law based on their race is racism," said Captain Watson.

The International Whaling Commission has lodged a protest with the United States government over this incident and the IWC will certainly be aware of the violations when they meet again next year to discuss the Makah request for a quota.


NOAA's chief, Conrad Lautenbacher, and the agency's fisheries director, William Hogarth, met with tribal leaders. A spokeswoman, Monica Allen, said Hogarth is convinced that "the tribe is taking this very seriously, and they are on top of it."

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the illegal hunt was "a very serious situation," but commended the Makah leaders "for immediately condemning this rogue act and taking steps to prosecute the offenders."

Brian Gorman, also a spokesman for the fisheries service, said the five men arrested last weekend could face civil penalties of up to $20,000 each and up to a year in jail. Criminal prosecution under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act is rare, he said. "The episode over the weekend has certainly slowed things down. We're going to have to reconsider the whole process. It doesn't mean we're withdrawing from it," he said. "We need just to have a little breathing room."

Captain Paul Watson said, "I hope Hogarth is right and that the Tribe does take this seriously and I hope Senator Murray is right and the Tribe does take steps to prosecute the offenders. I hope that the incident slows down the permit process, but overall I am not optimistic. When all the self righteous indignation dies down, these five vicious whale killers will most likely return to the water with their guns to torment and torture yet another whale in the name of tradition. One thing I do know for sure is that the ancient Makah whalers would never have inflicted such disrespect upon so noble a creature. They were whalers out of necessity and they were courageous men with proud and sacred traditions. These five men are just thugs."



Write Letters:

Urge government authorities to punish this egregious violation of federal law . . .

Secretary of Commerce
Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez

U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20230
Phone: (202) 482-2000
NMFS:  Northwest Region

Bob Lohn
Northwest Regional Administrator
Office of Protected Resources

National Marine Fisheries Service
7600 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98115-0070
(206) 526-6150
NMFS:  Headquarters

Office of Protected Resources
National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East-West Highway, 13th Floor
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone: (301) 713-2332
Fax: (301) 427-2520

For those who are ambitious about contacting people, you could include the following as well (employees within the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, Northwest Region):

Donna Darm
Northwest Assistant Regional Administrator
(206) 526-4489

Lynne Barre
Marine Mammal Specialist
(206) 526-4745

Kassandra Brown
Marine Mammal Specialist
(206) 526-4348

You also may wish to write to state government officials such as:

Senator Patty Murray
2988 Jackson Federal Building
915 Second Avenue
Seattle, Washington 98174
Phone: (206) 553-5545
Fax: (206) 553-0891

Senator Maria Cantwell
915 Second Avenue, Suite 3206
Seattle, Washington 98174
Phone: (206) 220-6400
Fax: (206) 220-6404