The Makah tribe of Washington State announced on Monday, February 14, that they had filed a waiver to the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act with the National Oceanic (NOAA) and Atmospheric Administration in Washington, D.C.
According to a 2001 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Makah can't legally catch any whales until it first receives the waiver from NOAA - something that has never been granted to anyone before, according to an NOAA official.
Even if successful, this process could take from three to five years.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society believes that the Makah will fail to receive the waiver from the government. The taking of gray whales is a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The Makah, as American citizens, are not exempt from the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
In addition, the Makah whale hunt proposal is illegal under the regulations of the International Whaling Commission, the sole international regulatory agency with responsibility for whaling.
The United States of America (USA) effectively abrogated their treaty with the Makah in 1946 when the USA joined the International Whaling Commission. The agreement with the IWC is an international agreement and takes precedence over a bi-lateral treaty between two nations. The Makah have never protested the USA joining the IWC and not representing Makah whaling interests. The USA did recognize and represent Inuit whaling interests when it joined the IWC in 1946.
The Makah have not demonstrated a subsistence need to the IWC, and aboriginal whaling must have an unbroken tradition under IWC regulations.
The IWC has never recognized the Makah as having aboriginal whaling rights and there was never any quota allocated by the IWC to the Makah for the taking of whales. The USA unilaterally approached Russia to horse-trade bowheads for gray whales to provide an illegitimate quota for the Makah.
The original treaty with the Makah and the USA allowed for the Makah to take whales in common with the citizens of the USA. It can be argued that when it became illegal for U.S. citizens to take whales, it also became illegal for the Makah to take whales.
Sea Shepherd does not believe the Makah are desperate to resume whaling. They want the right to whale to uphold what they believe is a legitimate treaty right. However, there is no practical economic motivation for whaling and the Makah tribe is divided on the controversy.
Sea Shepherd will oppose the Makah request for a waiver by utilizing whatever legal means available in the courts to block such a waiver from being granted.
"This is not the kind of precedent that will help conserve whales. If the Makah receive a waiver to kill whales for cultural and ritualistic purposes, this will be used by other people worldwide and will be a serious loophole allowing for the killing of whales," said Captain Paul Watson, president and founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Sea Shepherd opposition to the Makah whale hunt is based on the fact that proposed whaling by the Makah is a violation of international conservation law and it is currently illegal under the laws of the United States of America.