NEAH BAY — The Makah Tribe is a step closer to resuming gray whale hunts.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released Friday its final environmental impact statement on the Makah Tribe’s request to hunt gray whales.
This starts a countdown of at least 30 days before a final decision is made. The time period can be longer than 30 days.
The last legal whale hunt was in 1999, which was 24 years ago. The Makah — the only tribe in the lower 48 states with the right to hunt whales written into its treaty, the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay — has been attempting to obtain U.S. approval for another hunt since February 2005, when it requested a waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
“We’re definitely pleased that we’ve reached this point in the administrative process,” said T.J. Greene, tribal council chair, on Friday.
“It’s been nearly 20 years to get to this point,” he continued.
He did not have an idea of when the final decision would be made.
“We’re hopeful to get a decision before the end of the year, but we understand that sometimes these decisions take a little longer,” Greene said.
Makah subsistence whaling has been opposed by the Humane Society of the United States, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and others, including the Joyce-based Peninsula Citizens for the Protection of Whales, founded by Margaret and Chuck Owens.
“We don’t relish the return of the hard feelings that killing the whales energized on the (North Olympic) Peninsula 20 years ago,” Margaret Owens said Friday. “It makes us sick. But we do believe our gray whales deserve a place at the table.”
The Owens are especially concerned about the Pacific Coast Feeding Group (PCFG), which they refer to as resident whales.
The Makah, who had hunted whales for more than 2,700 years, stopped in the 1920s because commercial whaling had decimated the Eastern North Pacific gray whale population. They were removed from the endangered species list in 1994 and the Makah renewed efforts to return to hunting them. Recent reports, according to the EIS, now show that the population has fallen again, with an estimated 14,526 animals alive.
The massive document outlines seven alternatives, one preferred by NOAA and one by the Makah Tribe. Both of the preferred alternatives would provide a waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow the Makah to kill whales.
Both also refer to protections for PCFG whales and limit the number of whales overall that could taken, but differ in some details.
The EIS can be found at EISwhaling.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at email@example.com.