Weary of waiting for US court approval to hunt whales, five Makah men took it upon themselves to carry out a hunt without the approval of their courts or their own community.
The men reportedly left the docks in two power boats with harpoons and a high caliber rifle in the early morning hours of September 8.
According to District Public Affairs, Petty Officer 2nd class Shawn Eggert of the US Coast Guard, calls started coming in to the Neah Bay station later that morning. “On Saturday morning, about 9:30 a.m. we started receiving calls from local residents who reported hearing gunfire.”
A 25’ boat from the US Coast Guard Neah Bay Station was dispatched to investigate. “We came across five men from Neah Bay and a gray whale that had been harpooned and shot,” Eggert reported. Officers confiscated a Weatherby .460 magnum rifle. According to internet information the .460 is used primarily as an elephant gun.
Theron Parker, Andy Noel, Billy Secor, Frank Gonzales Jr. and Wayne Johnson were taken into custody and detained for about 5 hours; they were interviewed by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Later that evening they were turned over to the custody of the Makah Tribal Police who released them that night.
Coast Guard staff monitored the progress of whale until about 7:15 Saturday evening when Eggert said it slipped beneath the surface of the ocean. A marine biologist and a tribal member declared animal dead and it was never seen again.
The gravely injured grey whale was about 30’ long. It had floats attached which were removed sometime before it died.
Eggert says that if the body surfaces or washes ashore the Coast Guard will reestablish a 500 yard security zone around the whale to protect the remains. It will be turned over to the Fisheries Services who will keep it as evidence. The Fisheries Service is the lead investigator in the case.
Makah Tribal Police Chief Bill Green is not commenting on the case. However a statement has been issued from the Makah Tribal Offices.
The Makah have reserved the right to hunt whales in their 1855 treaty with the United States. Makah hunters landed their first whale in 70 years in 1999 amid glaring media and environmentalist attention.
They ceased hunting in the 1920’s after commercial whaling depleted the whale stocks almost to extinction. The grey whale was removed from the endangered species list in 1994 after decades of protection.
While the Makah’s right to hunt whales is protected in their treaty, they have agreed to abide by certain conditions under their treaty, such as obtaining an MMPA Waiver.
According to the US National Marine Fisheries Service, ‘The Ninth Circuit Court ruled in 2004 that the Makah, to pursue any treaty rights for whaling, must comply with the process prescribed in the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) for authorizing take of marine mammals otherwise prohibited by a moratorium. On Feb. 14, 2005, NOAA Fisheries Service received a request from the Makah for a limited waiver of the MMPA’s take moratorium, including issuance of regulations and any necessary permits’
According to reports the last waiver Makah received for the 1999 whale hunt included the requirement that they hunt in a traditional canoe and outside of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The US government imposed the limitation to protect near shore resident whales.
The September 8 hunt took place inside the strait and the hunters were not in dug out canoes.
Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council first nations are in the process of negotiating treaties with the provincial and federal governments. Those treaties will likely include provisions for whale hunting,
NTC Vice President Michelle Corfield said the NTC supports Makah Tribal Council on the issue of whale hunting.
By Denise Titian