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Should Indigenous Rights trump Marine Mammal Proctection Act?

Gray whales are only found in the North Pacific Ocean - currently only two populations exist - one eastern and one western.

The eastern population was listed as endangered years ago, but made a strong recovery and delisted in 1994. The eastern population is estimated to be around 27,000. The western population is currently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

NOAA is currently working to promote awareness and conservation to help manage this devastating reality.

Gray whales have few threats in the animal world - other than humans! Fish gear entanglement, vessel strikes, whale watching industry and ocean noise are the main threats to the gray whales. Up until now...

Makah tribal members paddle a whaling canoe. Photo Credit © NOAA Fisheries

The 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay between the US Government and the Makah Tribe states the tribe has "the right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and stations." The Makah Tribe has been seeking to exercise this since the 1990's but has been declined based on the Marine Mammal Protection Act which prohibits killing the whales.

In 2005 the Tribe sought a waiver to be exempt from this act and has yet to be granted this request. Fast forward to 2019 and a federal judge is currently considering the waiver, the impact and the consequences of this option. The matter is currently in week two of the hearing process.

The proposal states the Tribe could harvest three whales in even numbered years and one whale in odd numbered years, among many other limitations and restrictions.

What are your thoughts?

Maka whaler with seal skin floats, 1915. Photo credit: Edward S. Curtis, Northwestern University Library

If you are interested in finding out more or sharing your opinion on the matter - here are the details for the public hearing.

The schedule for the hearing is subject to change by the Administrative Law Judge. Current schedule calls for the hearing to begin at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14, and end no later than 5:00 p.m. that day. For hearing dates Friday, Nov. 15, and Monday through Thursday, Nov. 18-21, the hearing is anticipated to run 9:00 a.m. through no later than 5:00 p.m. with morning and afternoon breaks and a break for lunch. If necessary, the hearing may also take place on Friday, Nov. 22, from 9:00 a.m. until approximately noon.

Administrative Law Judge's office - 206-220-7105.

Figure 1: Flowchart of NOAA Fisheries’ Steps in Granting or Denying the Makah Tribe’s Request for a Waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s (MMPA) Take Moratorium. (Source: National Marine Fisheries Service, March 2019)


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