Subject: Whaling: US Tribe Seeks To Revive Whale (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Thu, 23 Oct 1997 15:28:19 -0400 (EDT)


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Date: Thu, 23 Oct 97 02:51:00 GMT 
Subject: US Tribe Seeks To Revive Whale

US Tribe Seeks To Revive Whale Hunt

 Associated Press Writer
   MONACO (AP) -- Seventy years after his tribe harpooned its last
whale, Micah McCarty is training for a dangerous -- and some say
reckless -- hunt from a sleek dugout canoe.
   For the second year in a row, his people, the less than
2,000-member Makah tribe of Washington state, have asked the
International Whaling Commission for permission to kill up to five
gray whales a year.
   It is a controversial request, and it has provoked dissent in
the IWC, within the tribe itself, and a lawsuit in the United
   The tribe stopped the hunts 70 years ago out of concern for the
animals' declining numbers. But now, the gray whale population has
rebounded and the coastal tribe hopes to resume what was once a
deeply important ritual.
   McCarty, 26, and other pro-whaling tribe members want to be
ready if the IWC, meeting in Monaco this week, gives the go-ahead.
The commission takes up the request Wednesday or Thursday.
   "Whaling is a sacrament of the ocean for us," said McCarty,
his woven cedar headband standing out amid the flashy cars and
casinos of Monaco.
   "The hunt requires tremendous spiritual and mental
preparation," McCarty said. Proudly, he pointed out he was the
first member of the tribe to try firing an enormous new whaling
rifle from a canoe.
   Experts say the Makah have lost the skills needed for whaling,
and may regret it if the IWC grants their request to kill the
whales, who measure 13 meters (about 40 feet) long, weigh up to 35
tons, and are so feared by whalers that they're called "devil
   "They don't know what they're doing," said Sidney Holt, a
long-time member of the IWC scientific commission. " Wounded gray
whales were notorious for killing whalers and ramming whaling
   He said the tribe may lose their taste for the hunt "when the
first Makah gets killed."
   But McCarty says the tribe -- which plans to hunt from roughly
32-foot-long canoes -- knows how to hunt from legends, and from
drawings on drums and other relics.
   The IWC banned commercial whaling in 1986, but routinely grants
quotas to other aboriginal peoples -- such as the Inuits of Canada
and Alaska, and the Chukchi of eastern Siberia -- who have strong
whaling traditions and need the food.
   The Makah claim they, too, have the right to hunt whales,
because they are an aboriginal people that hunted whales for
hundreds of years. They also cite an 1855 treaty with the United
   The U.S. government strongly backs their demand, and its
delegation to Monaco expressed "cautious optimism" about someday
winning approval for the hunt.
   However, a broad U.S. coalition last week filed suit in federal
court in Washington D.C. to block any attempt to resume the hunt.
   "It is clear that the Makah do not meet the criteria for the
approval of aboriginal subsistence quota," said Betsy Dribben, of
the Humane Society of the United States. She said the tribe
survived without whale meat for 70 years.
   "If the IWC grants the Makah quota, it could provide a legal
and political precedent for culture-based whaling that pro-whaling
forces may use to undermine the commercial whaling ban," she said.
   Some tribe members agree.
   "The bottom line is money," said Alberta Thompson, a
73-year-old Makah member who came to Monaco to speak out against
the hunt. She said her people never even hunted gray whales since
"there are tastier whales."
   She said the dispute has become ugly in the reservation, even
splitting families.
   Holt, the IWC adviser, said whaling nations Norway and Japan are
delighted that a tribe from the United States -- which routinely
condemns the two countries for their whale hunts -- is now embroiled
in its own controversy over whaling.
   McCarty claims the hunt is important because whales are such a
strong part of the tribe's heritage and rituals. The tribe also
argues it needs the meat to offset declining fish stocks, another
important source offood.
   As a concession to modern demands for humane killing methods,
they plan to use a 50-caliber rifle, weighing about 40 pounds (18
kilos), to kill the whales as soon as they are harpooned.
   Some are skeptical.
   "They say they are going to make the fast kills, but no one
believes them," Holt said, adding that a hunt would likely be
agonizing for the whales, as well as a potential tragedy for the
   "It could be a real mess," he said.