NEAH BAY – No tribal charges had been filed as of Wednesday against five Makah men who are under federal investigation for hunting and killing a gray whale four days before.
Makah Tribal Court Chief Judge Jean Vitalis said on Wednesday that no charges had been brought against the five – Theron Parker, Andy Noel, Billy Secor Sr., Frank Gonzales Jr. and Wayne Johnson.
A 30-foot gray whale was harpooned and shot on Saturday morning.
It sank in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and was pronounced dead at 7:15 that evening.
Johnson told The Seattle Times that he and the four others decided to hunt the whale without official permission.
Vitalis said the men have not had any court appearances on the matter, but if and when they do, judicial ethics would prevent her from any further comment.
Makah representatives who met with federal and congressional officials Wednesday in Washington, D.C., told the federal officials that the five men will face charges in Makah Tribal Court, said Micah McCarty, a Tribal Council member.
McCarty said the five also will face penalties for violating the tribe’s whaling management plan governing how the tribe hunts a whale.
McCarty said he hoped the five men will not face federal charges if the tribe prosecutes them.
“My impression is our system has the respect of all those concerned so far,” he said.
“We know there’s probably concurrence, although the federal process takes longer.
“My hope is they will consider the actions of our court,” McCarty said.
Charges in Makah Tribal Court would be filed by a member of Neah Bay Public Safety, the tribes police department.
Bill Green, acting chief of Neah Bay Public Safety, He declined to comment on when or what charges would be filed.
He also declined to say if the men are under investigation by the tribe.
The five men are under investigation by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Agency spokesman Mark Oswell said the investigation may take weeks.
When it is completed, the results will be forwarded either to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for criminal charges, or to National Marine Fisheries Service attorneys for civil action.
The men could face fines of up to $20,000 each and up to a year in jail if they are found guilty of committing a federal misdemeanor by killing a whale in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The five were questioned by the Coast Guard on Saturday after the whale was injured, and turned over to tribal police that afternoon.
Phone calls to the tribe’s prosecutor were not returned on Wednesday.