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23 April 2000 Issue
HSUS Decries U.S. Coast Guard's Use of Force Against Whale Activists

WASHINGTON (April 20, 2000) ~The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the nation’s largest animal protection organization with more than seven million members and constituents, is strongly criticizing the U.S. Coast Guard for injuring an animal rights activist protesting gray whale hunts by the Makah Indian tribe in Neah Bay, Washington.

Today, a protester on a jet-ski was run over by a U.S. Coast Guard boat, rescued and flown to a local hospital with a shoulder injury. The protester interrupted a hunt in progress preventing a successful attack on a gray whale. The Coast Guard has imposed a fine up to $250,000 and six years in prison for violating a 500-yard *exclusion zone* around the hunters. The Coast Guard is providing protection for the Makah during the hunts and has resorted to force to prevent interference, including ramming protesters boats. According to reports, another activist suffered minor injuries on Monday, April 17, after a Coast Guard vessel rammed a protest boat. In addition, several activists have already been arrested for violating the zone and their vessels seized.

"While we recognize that the actions of the protester violated the Coast Guard's exclusionary zone, the reaction of the Coast Guard personnel was uncalled for," said Naomi Rose, Ph.D., marine mammal scientist for The HSUS. "The Coast Guard has a duty to protect, not endanger, lives."

Patricia Forkan, HSUS Executive Vice President, added, “Neither the Makah whaling crew nor the protester were endangering human lives. Has this situation become so politically divisive that people would find it acceptable for the Coast Guard to add to the violence instead of to diffuse it? To run over defenseless protesters?”

In a 1997 backroom deal with the Russian government, the U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), under orders from the Clinton/Gore Administration, secured to the Makah a share of the Russian Chukotka natives’ IWC gray whale quota 20 whales through 2004 with a maximum of five per year. The Makah have said that five families may seek hunting permits this year, to take the maximum number allowed under this arguably illegal arrangement.

The HSUS condemns the whale killing as a senseless, inhumane tragedy that is a devastating loss in the name of “tradition.” Makah representatives had sought for years to resume whale hunting, a “right” they feel is guaranteed to them by a 1855 treaty with the United States government.

The centuries-old tradition ended in the 1920s when commercial whalers hunted the grays to near extinction. Attempts to revive the ancient practice have divided the Makah leadership. Despite the internal divide, Makah hunters killed its first whale in 70 years last May. In recent years, gray whale stocks have rebounded, leading federal officials to remove them from the Endangered Species List in 1994. Gray whale populations worldwide are estimated at more than 23,000.

However, in recent weeks, 30 gray whales have washed ashore dead along their migration route on the North American Pacific Coast. Last year during the gray whales’ migration the death toll was 273, according to reports. While scientists are unsure what is causing the death of the whales, it is another indicator that the gray whale should be protected and not subject to slaughter.

Source: dano@rockisland.com 

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