October hearings set on Makah request to resume whaling

NEAH BAY — The public process on the Makah tribe’s request to resume whaling will start in October with hearings in Neah Bay, Port Angeles and Seattle.

Once begun, the process is expected to be protracted and contentious.

When the Makah went whaling in 1999 — killing a 30-ton female gray whale on May 17 — the tribe attracted international attention and hundreds of protesters.

Tribal members received death threats from anti-whaling activists, and the tribe’s Web site was hacked so it looked like it was dripping blood.

The intense reaction to the Makah killing its one and only gray whale since the late 1920s has reverberated with court cases and environmental requirements, which have effectively stopped any new whale hunts since 2000.

One lawsuit that prompted a shutdown of whaling was filed by animal rights groups and individuals, including five Clallam County residents, who contended a whale hunt would threaten a small population of “resident” gray whales that lingers in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The potential impacts of a hunt on the environment and public safety were not known, the plaintiffs also argued.

A 2004 federal court ruling in favor of the activists’ arguments directed the Makah, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct an environmental impact statement and seek permit or waiver requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Last Feb. 3, the Makah Tribal Council resolved to apply for a waiver.

On Feb. 11, it filed the request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The tribe believes that approval . . . is necessary for the United States to fulfill its obligations to the tribe under the Treaty of Neah Bay,” wrote Ben Johnson Jr., tribal chairman.

The 1855 treaty specifically granted the Makah “the right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and stations.”

The Makah have the only treaty guaranteeing whaling.

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