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Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
May 24, 1999
I would not be able call myself an environmentalist if I did not weigh in on the issue of the Makah Tribe resuming the hunt of the Gray Whale. As southern Californians, the health of the Pacific Ocean should be of concern to all of us, as should a community's claim to the right of pushing yet another species of marine mammals to the edge of oblivion.
After being hunted to near extinction, in the 1920s, the gray whale has made a comeback and was removed from the endangered species list in 1994. That was a mere five years ago. Federal scientists estimate current gray-whale numbers to be about about 26,000, minus the 3 year old female recently harvested in the name of cultural identity. Up from an estimated low of about 4,000, the gray whale population has been so successful in it's recovery, the world wide whaling industry will no longer be denied.
Thought to be extinct, the southern sea otter was also saved from extinction when a colony off a Big Sur was discovered. In 1938 a small group of otters was discovered living near the mouth of Bixby Creek along California's Big Sur coast. From these survivors, the otter has rebounded to a population of more than 2,000. Protected by the endangered species act, these animals struggle to survive off the coast of California due to pressure from oil spills, and the commercial sea urchin industry.
The parallel here is obvious. A species is nearly lost, to the all consuming human appetite, is brought back with careful stewardship, which usually means "hands off", only to be threatened again when some smart monkey finds a loop hole in which to continue the slaughter. The noose being utilized in regards to the Gray whale is the Federal government's conspicuous desire to uphold a treaty made with native Americans.
The Makah are being used as pawns in a very deadly game. At stake here is the whales themselves. Now that the Makah has successfully resumed the hunt under "cultural" pretenses, the Japanese are expected to request the same right. Also claiming a historic whaling culture is Iceland, Norway, Chile, and Russia. Now that blood is in the water, and a precedent has been set, the only thing that will save the gray whale from extinction will be it once again being placed on the Endangered Species list.
Speaking of honoring treaties, does this mean the Clinton Administration is planning to return the Black Hills of South Dakota to the Sioux? What about the Cherokee? Under this new found respect for Native Americans treaties, the Cherokees can either claim Oklahoma or Georgia. In fact, I like the ideal of renewing indigenous cultures in North America as a rule. First and foremost of course is the tradition, and belief, that land can not be owned.
I'm sure some of you are saying, "How absurd" which is exactly my point. The tradition of slaughtering whales, revived out of some misguided sense of nostalgia, has been prompted by non-Indians who have little regard for the Makah. Dr. Allen Ingling, a veterinarian at the University of Maryland trained the Makah on the use of a specially designed .50 caliber rifle that is fired simultaneously or immediately after the harpoon is thrown.
Since the 1994 delisting of the Gray whale, the Makah tribal council has been negotiating with Japan to sell the whale meat, The Japanese also gave money to the Makah to petition our government for the right to hunt. The Makah have also been given traditional speed boats to help dispatch their victims. Culture as an intentional blood sport, you've got to love it.