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This action alert was received by email from The Cetacean Freedom Network on Thursday 23rd May 2002 (To join the list email: cfn-talk@yahoogroups.com - with the word 'subscribe' in text)

Makah Whaling Can Proceed, Judge Rules

SEATTLE, Washington, May 21, 2002 (ENS) - A federal judge has rejected a request for an injunction against whaling by the Makah tribe in Washington state. The ruling came three years to the day after the Makah returned to whaling for the first time in 70 years, killing a gray whale near their Neah Bay reservation at the northwest tip of Washington state. The tribe is the only group in the lower 48 states to have a legal right to hunt whales, a right granted under the 1885 treaty that created their reservation.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess declined to order a halt to the tribe's whaling pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Fund for Animals, The Humane Society of the United States, and other groups and individuals.

"While the court is sensitive to plaintiffs' concern, these concerns are outweighed by the Makah Tribe's rights under the Treaty of Neah Bay," Burgess wrote in his decision.

The judge also predicted that "there is not a substantial likelihood" that the animal rights groups will win their case against Makah whaling.

"The record suggests that the only potential hardship facing the plaintiffs is the potential for aesthetic, emotional and economic harms," Burgess wrote.

Critics of the Makah whale hunt charge that it cannot be justified as under cultural or subsistence arguments because the tribe's hunting methods have changed so much since they gave up whale hunts in the 1920s. At that time, the population of gray whales that summers in and around Neah Bay had been decimated by commercial whalers, leaving the Makah with their traditional canoes and spears little chance of landing a whale.

But after the gray whale was removed from the federal Endangered Species List in 1994, the tribe petitioned for permission to resume the hunt. Under requirements set by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the tribe can still hunt in traditional dugout canoes - though boats with motors are most often used now - but must kill the whales with guns, a method the federal agency calls more "humane" than spear hunting.

Today, the groups involved in the lawsuit filed a notice of appeal in another attempt to halt an impending gray whale hunt by the tribe. The groups charge that a previous decision by NMFS authorizing year round whaling could jeopardize the small, distinct group of resident gray whales that spend all year in Neah Bay.

The groups also argue that the hunt violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which expressly prohibits whaling, while creating an exemption for Alaskan tribes but not the Makah.

"The Court of Appeals has previously determined that the government's environmental study of the whale hunt was inadequate, and now the environmental impacts of the expanded whale hunt are even worse than before," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The Fund for Animals. "Whaling may have been a tradition in the past, but there is nothing traditional about cruelly shooting these majestic creatures with high power rifles.


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