The California Gray Whales are certainly safe from the harpoons and fifty caliber anti-tank guns of the Makah Indian whalers for 2004 and most likely for 2005.
Anti-whaling forces won another victory in the courts last week. A Federal Appeals Court has refused to reconsider its ruling that the Makah Tribe of Washington State be allowed to kill gray whales.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in December 2002 that there must be a full environmental impact statement and a special permit from the United States government before whaling can take place. The Makah lost an appeal on this ruling in June 0f 2003. Now the full court has refused to reverse the decision of the earlier three- judge appeal hearing.
John Arum, the attorney for the Makah Tribe acknowledged that the tribe has lost. "The hunt opponents did win, but it's not the end." Arum said to Associated Press. "It's likely we'll file a second petition for a rehearing and we'll see what the full court does with it," he said.
The appellate panel ruled in December 2002 that NMFS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, its parent agency in the Commerce Department, failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act when their assessment determined there would be no significant impact from the hunt.
The panel found "substantial questions remaining as to whether the tribe's whaling plans will have a significant effect on the environment." It said a whale hunt would violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and that the tribe needs a federal permit for it. The panel also said it was concerned about the hunt's effect on Washington state's local whale population and what precedent would be set - especially for global commercial whaling - if the hunt resumes.
Conservationists and animal welfare organizations have been fighting the Makah whale hunt since 1995.
It has been a long hard struggle but it has been rewarding. Only one whale was killed and that was on May 17, 1999. The Makah had intended to kill twenty whales between 1998 and 2002. They failed to do so.
Whale defenders have fought on the sea to block the harpoons and in the courts to uphold the laws protecting the whales.
The Makah whale hunt is illegal under international law and it is now illegal under United States law.
The Makah maintain that they have a treaty right to kill whales. However the 1855 treaty states that they had the right to kill whales in common with the citizens of the United States. When the law forbade U.S. citizens from taking whales, the Makah's rights continued to be "in common" with other U.S. citizens.
"We will be watching the Makah carefully. Some of the whalers have said they intend to kill whales despite the rulings of the court. If they do they will be subject to prosecution."
The campaign to stop the resurrection of whaling in the lower forty-eight states has been a clear victory. In 1995, the Makah were talking of building a commercial whaling industry at Neah Bay. That will never happen. Whale defenders will continue to campaign in the field and in the courts to ensure that another whale is not slaughtered again in the waters off Washington State.