NEAH BAY – Wayne Johnson, one of the five men who fatally wounded a gray whale during an unauthorized hunt in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Sept. 8, said that the whalers did not abandon the animal to a slow death.
“We weren’t the ones who made it suffer,” Johnson said on Friday.
“We went out to hunt it, but we had no intention to make it suffer.”
The whale was wounded at about 10 a.m., harpooned twice and reportedly riddled with up to 21 shots from a bolt-action .460-caliber Weatherby hunting rifle.
It sank and was declared dead at 7:15 p.m.
“We pleaded with the Coast Guard, please, can’t one of us go down there and put it out of its misery? They said, nobody’s going there,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the men who hunted the whale asked if someone else could do it, and brought up the name of Donnie Swan, who had been trained in the use of a .50-caliber gun.
Swan was on the 1999 whale hunting team with Johnson.
That hunt – sanctioned by the Makah Tribal Council, the United States and the international whaling commission – was the Makah’s first hunt in 80 years.
Johnson and Swan had also participated in native whale hunts on the Russian Pacific coast about two years ago.
That’s where Swan learned to place a killing shot in a whale, he said on Friday.
“There are certain places to take it out quick,” he said.
On the morning of Sept. 8, he didn’t know a hunt was in the offing.
“I knew they were going to go scouting, but not hunting,” he said.
Swan was coaching Pee Wee football when somebody told him about the hunt, and he called Johnson.
At some point in the afternoon, when it was realized the whale was still alive, arrangements began to be made to get approval to send Swan out to euthanize the animal, said Swan and Johnson.
“By the time our officials and federal officials gave the OK for Donnie to go out there, it was hours later,” Johnson said.
The Coast Guard officers who were guarding the whale hadn’t received word that Swan was approved to kill the whale, he said.
“They were freaking out, seeing a .50 caliber [rifle] on a boat,” Swan said.
“They stopped us, told me to put my weapon on the deck and they made us stand down.”
Soon Swan was told that the whale had died.
“We were just standing by waiting for the paper trail to get there, and in the meantime it died,” he said.
“The longer that whale sits there, the longer it suffers,” he said.
“I don’t like to see animals suffer, myself.”