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Anti-Whaling

Anti-Whaling
The tradition is welfare

October 5, 1998
Alberta Report

Despite a plentiful supply, Greens vow to stop an Indian whale hunt

If nothing else, animal rightists cannot be accused of prejudice: they favour beasts over men, whether the latter are black, white or red. Indians rank high in the pantheon of political correctness, but not as high as whales. So Washington State Indians intending to kill the massive mammals for food were at a disadvantage, even before it was revealed that their "traditional" hunting method depends on a distinctly modern weapon—the machinegun.

The controversy is especially upsetting to Tom Happynook of Victoria, chairman of the World Council of Whalers, who says similar hunts are being planned in British Columbia. "We're up against urban people who don't even know milk comes from a cow," he charges. "What right do they have telling us what to do? Natives in coastal communities are eating corned beef hash out of cans and Kraft Dinner. We just don't have any money." 

The culture clash erupted in August, when the 1,400-strong Makah tribe of Neah Bay on the Olympic Peninsula announced they will hunt up to five grey whales each year starting October 1 under an agreement authorized by the International Whaling Commission and the U.S. Commerce Department.

The grey whale suffered near-extinction in the 1920s, but today is no longer on the U.S. endangered species list; more than 20,000 swim up and down the West Coast twice yearly.

Keith Johnson, president of the Makah Whaling Commission, said that resuming his tribe's historic October hunt "is a link to the past and it validates us, who we are as a people and a culture." He added that the hunt will bring badly needed food to the dinner tables of his people, who along with non-natives have suffered job losses in local logging and fishing industries because of environmental sanctions.

No sooner was the announcement made than Project Sea Wolf, an anti-whaling offshoot of California's Sea Shepherd Society, staged a protest meeting in Victoria on August 29. Eco-pirate Paul Watson, the society's founder, was scheduled to speak but was replaced at the last minute by understudy Michael Kundu of Seattle. He told 70 sympathizers that the Makah does not require freezers full of whale meat and should go to Seattle if they want "amenities." "They get government subsidies," he argued. "They don't need this to survive."

Mr. Kundu then played a video of a protracted whale killing. He insisted that if the hunt is allowed to proceed, it would set a precedent and encourage more whaling around the world. He revealed his group intends to prevent the hunt by positioning a dozen boats, including a 32-foot submarine owned by Mr. Watson, off Neah Bay. The vessels will broadcast killer whale sounds to scare the grey whales into altering their migration route. "All we need is for them to swim a mile offshore," said Mr. Kundu, adding that the Makah's 18-foot dugout canoes will not be able to survive the rough waters farther from the shore.

Mr. Kundu also said that his band of eco-warriors will, if necessary, throw themselves between the harpoon-armed natives and the cetaceans. Given the current climate of tension between natives and non-natives over treaty claims, Mr. Kundu's remarks strike Mr. Happynook as ill advised. "He is deliberately and needlessly trying to cause bad feelings," he declares. "The reality is that people can still go whale-watching, do research, whatever, but somewhere in this equation the whalers are going to fit in."

The dispute escalated September 13 when an ad-hoc group called the Westcoast Anti-Whaling Society—consisting of a fishing boat, several whale-tour operators and other boaters—congregated in Victoria's Inner Harbour with placards reading "Wounded Whales Feel Pain." Leading the protest was Western Canada Wilderness Committee campaigner Anthony Marr, who in the past has lobbied to end bear and tiger hunting.

Mr. Marr accused the Makah of being inhumane, claiming the whales die a lingering death after being first secured by a hand-thrown ceremonial harpoon and then riddled with bullets. "Five hundred rounds might be pumped into a whale. It can take a whale 30 minutes to two hours to die," he said. Not so, says Makah member Jimmy Thompson.

"What we intend on doing is using the machinegun to sever the whale's spinal cord, which will kill it instantly—unlike in the past when a whale could tow our canoes around for days on end," he explains.

Mr. Thompson echoes the sentiments of other Indian hunters by remarking, "People like Marr are not interested in us evolving, they're just trying to assimilate us. That's been tried before, and we won't allow it."

Last week, spectators were allowed onboard Mr. Watson's ship Sea Shepherd, which was docked in Seattle, to view his two-man sub, which is painted to resemble a killer whale. Meanwhile, Washington State Republican Congressman Jack Metcalf and animal activists from the U.S., Britain and Australia have filed a lawsuit to prevent the hunt; they claim the federal agencies which reviewed the Makah case erred when they declared it environmentally safe. They are requesting Federal Judge Franklin Burgess to send the case to the National Marine Fisheries Service for a full environmental review. He will make his decision this week.

-- Robin Brunet
 

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