Makah Tribal Council receives approval to hunt grey whales off U.S. coast near Vancouver Island

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It’s a tradition going back thousands of years. Now, the Makah Tribe in Washington State has been granted a waiver from the Marine Mammal Protection Act to hunt grey whales for the first time since 1998.

In 1998, Greig Arnold, with the Makah Tribal Council, told reporters about the importance of hunting whales to his community.

“To know the Makah, and to be a Makah, is to know about whaling, to be whalers,” he said.

According to Michael Milstein, public affairs officer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the tribe must apply for a permit before it begins hunting.

“The waiver would allow for the tribe to take up to 25 whales over 10 years. So that is an average of two to three per year, at the most, and that’s a very, very small proportion of the whole population,” Milstein said.

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When the Makah Tribe was permitted to hunt in the late 1990’s, it sparked massive protests on and off the water.

While NOAA says the population of grey whales is healthy, conservation groups say a hunt is unethical.

Janie Wray, CEO and lead researcher with BC Whales, said it’s a risk to take even one whale.

“I think with time there are certain things we’ve learned, and what we’ve learned is that whales are a social creature with each other. They have very, very strong family bonds, and I think it is horrific to go out and take even one life of a grey whale,” Wray said.

READ MORE: Washington’s Makah Tribe could once again harpoon whales as US waives conservation law

There are three groups of grey whales in the north Pacific.

The whale the Makah plans on hunting is the Eastern North Pacific Grey Whale.

The population is estimated at 19,000.

Marine mammal zoologist Anna Hall say a hunt could accidently target one of the other two groups of grey whales.

She said the Pacific Coast Feeding Grey Whale and the Western North Pacific Grey Whales are endangered, and struggling.

“At the surface, they are difficult – if not impossible – to tell apart unless you know the individual whale through the markings that are on it,” said Hall. “Unless you spend a lot of time with them, they are almost impossible to tell apart.”

A hunt is not expected to take place until 2025.

The Makah Tribal Council did not respond to our request for an interview Friday.

WATCH: Local Island opposition could resurface if Makah Tribe whale hunt resumes

 

Mary Griffin

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