The Compact with the Whale Nations is Broken

by Dian Hardy

It's late on a starry night in mid-October when I pull into the small fishing port of Sekiu, close to my destination of Neah Bay.
I have come here, to the northwestern edge of the continental United States, to try to understand why a modern people with ancient ties to the great whales wish to hunt them again after a period of some seventy years. The reservation at Neah Bay is the home of the Makah people, and the place from which the gray whale will be hunted.

The Makah have claimed their ancient treaty rights to hunt whale and in 1997, they received an allotment of twenty whales over the next five years by means of a trade for bowhead whales brokered by the United States with Russia.

My eyes ache from two days of driving past clearcuts on the steep hillsides of Oregon and Washington. Certainly these clearcuts bear some weight in the decision of the Makah to seek re-establishment of their treaty rights to whale; profits from forestry and fishing have diminished severely over the last decade. Indeed, there is unemployment, teenage pregnancy, and poverty at Neah Bay. But there are also cell phones, satellite dishes, restaurants, a supermarket, a $7.8 million dollar marina, fax machines, e-mail, Federal Express. Here, too, is great beauty and the potential for a viable ecotourist industry.

There is another reason the Makah may have to go whaling: there are great profits to be made. It is estimated that a gray whale is worth between $500,000 and $1 million to Japan. I have documents which show that as early as 1995, our government knew of the Makah's desire to establish a commercial fishery, not only in whales, but also in harbor seals, sea lions, minke whales and other small cetaceans, and sea otters, and to operate a processing plant to sell to markets outside the U.S.

Such a plan may seem improbable now, yet if the Makah are able to proceed with their gray whale hunt, it is possible to envision a return to worldwide whaling under the guise of indigenous cultural rights. And it would be our country and our "environmental" administration that brought this about.

At a meeting of a support group for the anti-whalers, I hear Lisa Distefano of Sea Shepherd, Heidi Tiura, captain of the Sea Dog, and Alberta Thompson, elder of the Makah, speak of their struggle to save the whales. Three remarkable women, and perhaps the most notable is Alberta Thompson, "Binkie," to her grandchildren and friends. She has lived all her life in Neah Bay. Alberta stands before us, upright in her seventy-four years, her hair raven black but for a pure white streak that haloes her face. She speaks quietly and simply, and tells us of her opposition to the whale hunt. When the whaling plan first surfaced, she was not alone in her dissent, but the others have fallen away and she has found herself standing alone. It is clear that dissent on this issue is not tolerated.

She has lost her job, her dog was killed, her family has been harassed.

When violence against nonviolent demonstrators flared recently, she was blamed. There is talk of detribalizing her, and she has been forced from her home. But, she says, it was all worth it, she would do it again. Taken by friends on a trip to the calving lagoons at Baja California, a mother whale brought her calf to the boat Binkie was on . Looking down at that trusting face, she stroked the whale and found her life changed.

On the morning I am to leave to return home, I awaken to realize I can sense the whales in the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Have I spent so much time on the water, in the presence of the whales, that I have in some way altered, and can now enter into their watery domain? As this longest migration of all mammals begins, I know a part of myself is traveling with these great and gentle creatures. I urge you to join this journey too: call your Congressional representative, ask for an investigation into the hunt and a moratorium while alternatives are explored. Contact and support the work of the anti-whaler activists: the Sea Shepherd, In the Path of Giants, Progressive Animal Welfare Society and the Canadian Anti-Whaling Society. Even if it was the present administration which brought us the hunt, it will be our silence which gives it permission.

Their websites are as follows:
Stop The Whale Kill
Safe Passing

Makah Whale Hunt Up-date...

The southward gray whale migration was remarkable this year for several reasons:
The whales completely bypassed the coasts of Washington and Oregon, disappointing both the Makah and whale watchers along the coast. Californians reported seeing the whales further out to sea than in recent years.

The migration was also delayed this year, possibly due to increased numbers of fish available in northern waters, a by-product of El Nino. Once the whales were spotted nearing the calving lagoon, however, their lowered numbers created concern among observers.

Then, the discovery of unusually high mortality rates among the whales, sea turtles, and sea lions in that area brought the pitch of concern to high levels. This culminated in media stories documenting the deaths of over fifty whales, more than one hundred sea turtles, and nearly two hundred sea lions.

Mexican environmentalists and Greenpeace filed a criminal complaint against Mitsubishi in mid-March, blaming pollution from the salt works on Mexico's Baja California peninsula for the deaths of the protected sea turtles and other marine life. Most deaths have occurred within the Vizcaino Biosphere reserve, the largest sanctuary of its type in Latin America. Mitsubishi has denied the charges.

These southerly concerns do not appear to have slowed the Makah hunt, although funding for the whalers is reported to have disappeared. A boycott on Washington state apples has been called and Clallam County commissioners have been presented with thousands of signatures asking the hunt be stopped.

On March 23, in Friday Harbor, Washington, the San Juan County Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 to adopt a resolution opposing the Makah whale hunt. It's rumored that because of concerns expressed by the public, as well as increased interest by Congressional representatives, the hunt may be postponed until the fall. And, finally, a legal appeal asking the hunt be delayed pending more investigation has yet to be heard.

© 1999... Dian Hardy

From the Santa Rosa (Sonoma County, Northern California) Press-Democrat:
May 19, 1999

Local Group Holds Vigil at Federal Building

Signaling their sorrow over the killing of a 3-year-old whale by Makah Indian Nation hunters in Washington state, about a dozen animal rights activists and anti-whaling protesters delivered a bouquet of flowers Tuesday afternoon to federal government offices in Santa Rosa.

"Our idea is to express our grief over this whale slaying by U.S. government policies in a misguided attempt to revive an ancient tradition," said Dian Hardy, who presented the flowers to security guards of the Joseph Rattigan federal building for delivery to local offices of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The harpooning and shooting of a 34-ton whale by native hunters captured national media attention Monday when tribe members exercised their newly gained right to hunt whales. Tribal leaders have maintained that an exemption from International Whaling Commission hunting bans was necessary to restore pride in the coastal Washington tribe.

Hardy and several of the flower-bearing activists have been to tribe's whale hunting grounds in the last year as a part of their effort to support environmental opposition to the change in international and U.S. policies. The group called upon Sen. Barbara Boxer and U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson and Lynn Woolsey to support an end to the whale hunting and reconsideration of the IWC exemption.

What to Do:
Lynn Woolsey is the congressional representative for many of us here in west county. Her aide, Inga Hawley, is sympathetic and has proven to be accessible. Lynn recently signed on to a congressional letter opposing the hunt. Please call Inga at 202.225.2161 and tell her of your concerns. Ask her to urge Lynn to act to fashion legislation to end the hunt.

To contact the Makah Tribal Council, e-mail:

Please voice your objections to Al Gore's support of the Makah whale hunt to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Let the Committee know if you intend to refrain from making a money contribution.
Joe Andrew, DNC National Chair

There are lots of e-mail addresses for various departments (such as history/souvenirs, etc). Please consider sending everyone listed an appropriate message protesting the Coast Guard's role in the Makah whale slaughter (protecting the killers from the whale's protectors).
The Coast Guard Web-Site is:

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