Feds Say Tribe Can Resume Hunting Whales

Makah Tribe in Washington state has legally hunted only one whale in around 100 years
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 13, 2024 1:55 PM CDT
Feds Say Tribe Can Resume Hunting Whales
Two Makah whalers stand atop the carcass of a dead gray whale moments after helping tow it close to shore in the harbor at Neah Bay, Washington May 17, 1999.   (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

The Makah Tribe is the only Native American tribe with a treaty that includes whaling rights, but they have legally hunted only one whale in around a century. That's set to change after a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration decision, the New York Times reports. The Washington state tribe has been granted a waiver under the Marine Mammal Protection Act that will allow it to hunt up to 25 Eastern North Pacific gray whales over the next 10 years, reports the AP. The tribe, which applied for the waiver almost 20 years ago, will be allowed to hunt two or three whales a year from a population believed to number around 20,000.

For centuries, the tribe hunted whales from cedar canoes, but they stopped in the 1920s after commercial whaling devastated whale populations. By 1994, decades after the end of most commercial whaling, Eastern North Pacific gray whales were taken off the endangered list. After a long legal battle, the tribe won federal approval to resume hunting in the late 1990s. They successfully hunted a single gray whale in 1999 amid fierce opposition from animal rights activists, who used motorized boats to block the tribe's canoes and scare away whales, the Times reports. A federal appeals court halted the hunts in 2000.

Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said the decision is a "major milestone in the process to return ceremonial and subsistence hunting" of whales to the tribe. "The measures adopted today honor the Makah Tribe's treaty rights and their cultural whaling tradition that dates back well over 1,000 years, and is fundamental to their identity and heritage," Coit said in a statement Thursday. The tribe will have to receive a permit before carrying out a hunt, the NOAA said. The AP notes that the only other groups with waivers allowing such hunts are Alaska Natives, who are allowed to hunt a limited number of bowhead whales in the Arctic. (More whaling stories.)

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