Makah leaders scramble after whale killing

NEAH BAY — The Makah Indian Tribe said Monday it was flying some of its members to Washington, D.C., to assure the state’s congressional delegation the tribe did not authorize the killing of a gray whale over the weekend.

The tribe has spent years trying to win back federal approval to exercise its treaty rights to hunt whales.

In 1999, five years after the gray whale was taken off the endangered species list, members of the northwest Washington tribe legally hunted and killed their first whale in seven decades.

The hunt was met by fierce protests and animal welfare activists sued, leading to a court order that the tribe obtain a waiver under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to continue hunting whales.

Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency reviewing the waiver request, said he does not believe Saturday’s whale killing will affect the tribe’s application.

But Tribal Chairman Ben Johnson Jr. said he feared it has damaged the tribe’s case — both with the fisheries service and the public.

“We know it’s going to hurt,” Johnson told the Peninsula Daily News.

Five men have been accused of harpooning and shooting a California gray whale with a high-powered rifle in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Saturday morning. One witness reported hearing 21 shots fired.

The Makah Tribal Council denounced the killing, calling it “a blatant violation of our law” and promising to prosecute those responsible.

The U.S. Coast Guard detained the five men Saturday, then turned them over to tribal authorities. The council said the men were booked into the tribe’s detention facility, released after posting bail and will stand trial in tribal court.

All five could face civil penalties of up to $20,000 each and up to a year in jail, Gorman said.

Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said Monday that prosecutors were still collecting and reviewing reports about the incident before deciding whether to pursue criminal charges.

The Makah delegation headed to the nation’s capital hoped to meet with Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and with Rep. Norm Dicks, all Washington Democrats.

“They need to know that we didn’t condone the hunt,” Ben Johnson said.

The 30-foot whale was pronounced dead about 10 hours after it was harpooned. It sank in 500 feet of water about a mile east of Cape Flattery and two miles south of the Canadian border.

On Monday, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she was “very upset” by the killing, but encouraged that the tribe has denounced it and vowed to prosecute those responsible.

“Not only did we lose a very important species here, but that is now sitting at the bottom of the water. It’s not even to feed the poor at the tribe. It does nothing. And it flies in the face of the law,” Gregoire said in a weekly meeting with reporters.

The Humane Society of the United States sent a letter Monday to the fisheries services’ assistant administrator urging that the agency suspend its review of the waiver request that could allow the tribe to resume whale hunting.

The animal welfare group said the killing “raises grave questions about the Makah’s ability to manage a lawful hunt in the future.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

Chap Grubb, founder and CEO of second-hand outdoor gear store Rerouted, stands inside his new storefront on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Gold Bar, Washington. Rerouted began as an entirely online shop that connected buyers and sellers of used gear.  (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Used outdoor gear shop Rerouted finds a niche in Gold Bar

Seeking to keep good outdoor gear out of landfills, an online reselling business has put down roots in Gold Bar.

Naval Station Everett. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
Everett man sentenced to 6 years for cyberstalking ex-wife

Christopher Crawford, 42, was found guilty of sending intimate photos of his ex-wife to adult websites and to colleagues in the Navy.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers speaks to the crowd during an opening ceremony at the new PAE2 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County executive pitches $1.66B budget

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced his proposed budget Tuesday afternoon. Public comment is slated to begin Oct. 10.

Mt. Baker visible from the summit of Mt. Dickerman on a late summer day in 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Hornets pester hikers on popular Mountain Loop trails

“You cannot out run the stings,” one hiker wrote in a trip report. The Forest Service has posted alerts at two trailheads.

A view of a 6 parcel, 4.4 acre piece of land in Edmonds, south of Edmonds-Woodway High School on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Housing authority seeks more property in Edmonds

The Housing Authority of Snohomish County doesn’t have specific plans for land near 80th Avenue West, if its offer is accepted.

Nursing Administration Supervisor Susan Williams points at a list of current COVID patients at Providence Regional Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dozens of Providence patients in medical limbo for months, even years

About 100 people are stuck in Everett hospital beds without an urgent medical reason. New laws aim for a solution.

Emergency responders surround an ultralight airplane that crashed Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Arlington Municipal Airport in Arlington, Washington, resulting in the pilot's death. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Pilot dead in ultralight plane crash at Arlington Municipal Airport

There were no other injuries or fatalities reported, a city spokesperson said.

One of Snohomish County PUD’s new smart readers is installed at a single family home Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Mill Creek, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
PUD program seeks to make energy grid smarter for 380K customers

The public utility’s ConnectUp program will update 380,000 electric meters and 23,000 water meters in the next few years.

Water main break cuts off faucets in Tulalip neighborhood

Once service is restored, Tulalip residents should boil their water for a minute before use or use bottled water.

Most Read