Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Makah Hunt Gray Whale
Five members of the Makah of Washington State harpooned and shot a gray whale off Neah Bay in Juan de Fuca Strait last Saturday. The whale later died and sank form its injuries. The hunt was unauthorized by the band or government officials. The Makah were successful in an authorized gray whale hunt in 1999, with many of the same members now involved in this week's incident. Each man could face up to a $20,000 fine and a year in jail if convicted of violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The tribe will continue to seek a permit to resume authorized whaling. Even though the gray whale population is not endangered there are special sub populations of animals that utilize the bays of Washington and British Columbia each year called 'resident' grays. Through genetic analysis of gene variation researchers estimate as many as 118,000 gray whales roamed the Pacific before commercial whaling started in the 1800s. Today there are only about 22,000 Pacific gray whales, including about 100 in the western Pacific. A rise in sea temperatures may have limited gray whale prey availability. The recent increase in gray whale deaths suggests a limited food source in their feeding grounds of the Bering Sea.