Subsistence Hunting: Gray Whales

Makah Whaling

The case of the Makah tribe in Washington is particularly complicated due to the unique nature of the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay which allows for the hunting of gray whales. The Makah tribe resumed whale hunting in 1999, much to the dismay of animal rights and conservation groups. The issue has catalyzed a huge dispute between the two opposing sides.

Claims of the Animal Rights Groups (41):
  • Establishment of humpback quota will lead to minke and orca quotas in the future.
  • Permitting whaling for the Makah tribe will be a gateway towards more tribes requesting this same provision (native communities on Vancouver Island have expressed interested).
  • Makah whaling will further strengthen the positions of Japan, Norway and Iceland to heighten their illegal whaling activities, and weaken the US as an international voice for whale conservation.
  • Local resident whales will be specifically threatened should a quota be established at Neah bay.
  • Aboriginal groups are acting as fronts for Japanese and Norwegian whaling interests (corruption/collaboration between native groups and commercial whalers).
Claims of the Makah Tribe (41):
  • Whaling and whales are central to Makah culture.
  • Tradition involves rituals and ceremonies which are deeply spiritual
  • Whale hunting imposes a purpose and discipline beneficial to the entire community.
  • The tradition involves tremendous preparation and intention.
  • The relationship between Makah and whales dates from 2,000 years ago (Ozette deposits provide evidence of this).
  • Neah Bay Treaty permits the hunting of whales for the Makah.

Subsistence/Native Harvest Data

The IWC formally identifies whaling operations which qualify for the aboriginal subsistence hunting status, recommends catch limits, evaluates hunting methods, and assesses the needs of whaling communities for whaling and whale products (34).

Hunters in Alaska and Russia have traditionally harvested whales from The Eastern North Pacific Gray whale stock.

Timeline of 'takes' from ENP Gray whale stock in the recent years: 

1995: Alaska took two gray whales (37).
1996: Russians took 43 whales (28).
1997: Russians took 79 whales (38).
1997: IWC approved 5-year quota (1998-2002) of 620 gray whales. Annual cap of 140 whales for Russian and U.S. (Makah Indian Tribe) aboriginals. The aboriginal needs statements from each country can be found in (28). Agreement between US and Russia: average annual harvest of 120 whales by the Russian Chukotka people and 4 whales by the Makah Indian Tribe.

Takes by Russian aboriginals: 126 in 2003, 110 in 2004, 115 in 2005, 129 in 2006, and 126 in 2007 (2). The average was 121 whales during the 5-year period from 2003-2007 (2).

After five years of monitoring the ENP Gray whale stock following its removal from the Endangered Species List, researchers concluded that the whale population remained at sustainable levels (39).

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