Category Archives: Whales (baleen)

NOAA wants to allow the Makah Tribe to kill gray whales for the next 10 years; your opinion matters

14 Nov 2019. A federal judge is currently considering the case of whether indigenous rights to kill whales should take precedence over the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and whether it is even wise to do so, given the fact that the specified population of gray whales appears to be experiencing a die off.

Gray whale carcass washed up in California.                         Photo Credit: San Francisco Chronicle

Since January 1, 2019, elevated gray whale strandings have occurred along the west coast of North America from Mexico through Alaska. This event has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME). (NOAA).

NOAA Fisheries data.  2019 gray whale stranings are in orange, compared to an 18 year average.

The case is currently before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in Seattle, Washington, and the process is open to the public. There will be other opportunities to influence the decision (see details below) but if you are in the region you can attend the proceedings over the next two weeks.

“The hearing involves a proposed waiver under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and proposed regulations governing the hunting of eastern North Pacific (ENP) gray whales by the Makah Indian Tribe in northwest Washington State.
During the prehearing conference, the following new issue of fact was identified: “Is the ENP stock currently undergoing an Unusual Mortality Event (UME)? If so, does this merit further consideration before a waiver may be granted?”

The friendly whales in Baja will be among those allowed in the hunts as they migrate past Washington State.               Photo Credit: Baja Tours

(For more background on issue, please see “Tribe wants to hunt whales that have learned to trust us“).
How does this behavior:
Photo Credit: KUOW
…resemble the hunting methods when the treaties were made?
A Makah whaler with spear and sealskin floats, 1915 Photo: Edward S. Curtis Northwestern University Library

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Q. Is the hearing open to the public?

A. The hearing is open to the public and anyone may attend and observe, although only parties who formally intervened in the proceeding in May 2019 may participate. Given the number of parties to the case, space for spectators will be limited. Seating will be provided on a first come, first served basis. Overflow seating will be available in an adjacent room but will not have a direct view into the courtroom. We anticipate seating will be most in demand the first week of the hearing (Nov. 14-15). More seating may be available during the second week (starting Nov. 18).

Q. How do I attend the hearing?

A. The hearing will take place at the Fourth Floor Auditorium in the Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle. The building is located at 915 Second Avenue between Marion and Madison Streets, with entrances on both First and Second Avenues. The building is easily accessible from many Metro and Sound Transit routes but does not have on-site parking. Several paid parking garages are nearby. To enter the building, you must go through security screening. More information about entry requirements and prohibited items may be found at https://www.dhs.gov/faq-regarding-items-prohibited-federal-property.

Q. What is the daily schedule for the hearing?

A. The schedule for the hearing is subject to change by the Administrative Law Judge. The current schedule calls for the hearing to begin at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14, and end no later than 5:00 p.m. that day. For hearing dates Friday, Nov. 15, and Monday through Thursday, Nov. 18-21, the hearing is anticipated to run 9:00 a.m. through no later than 5:00 p.m. with morning and afternoon breaks and a break for lunch. If necessary, the hearing may also take place on Friday, Nov. 22, from 9:00 a.m. until approximately noon.

Q. Who can I contact with questions?

A. If you have additional questions about attending the hearing, you may direct them to the Administrative Law Judge’s office at 206-220-7105. News media interested in covering the hearing should contact Michael Milstein of NOAA Fisheries at 503-231-6268 or michael.milstein@noaa.gov

Opportunities for Public Participation

The next opportunity will be announced at the hearing in November. The Administrative Law Judge will set a deadline for interested persons to submit written comments on the proposed waiver and regulations, including proposed findings and conclusions and written arguments or briefs. You do not have to participate as a party in order to submit comments at this stage. Written submissions must be based on the record and should cite relevant pages of the hearing transcript.
Finally, the Administrative Law Judge will issue a recommended decision following the hearing. NOAA Fisheries will publish a notice in the Federal Register announcing the recommended decision, beginning a 20-day public comment period where anyone may submit written comments on the recommended decision.

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Tribe wants to hunt whales that have learned to trust us

Photo Credit: Ranger Rick

If the Makah tribe is allowed to resume hunting gray whales we stand to lose much more than the animals that they kill, for surely this will further divide our country along racial and cultural lines. It may lift the lid on a simmering pot of conflicting world views – do we cling to the past and the old way of relating to nature, or do we move forward and learn to respect the lives of other sentient beings? History tells us that this would be a big mistake.
In 1999, The LA Times reported on the only legal gray whale hunt in 70 years;

“Death threats, obscene telephone calls and racist venom in response to the Makah Indian Tribe’s first whale hunt in decades have shocked religious leaders here, who called for tolerance and respect…Makah officials say the tribe at the tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula has received hundreds of threatening calls. On the Internet, a Web site made to look like the official Makah site was posted, but with anti-whaling and anti-Makah words and pictures.”

In 2007 the Seattle Times reported on an illegal, rogue, and ultimately cruel hunt by five tribal members who apparently had grown weary over court battles to kill more whales.

Five Makah Nation members harpooned and shot a gray whale east of Neah Bay on Saturday morning, shocking environmentalists and tribal leaders alike. The whale died less than 12 hours later, sinking while heading out to sea.
The move short-circuited years of wrangling in the courts over whaling by the tribe, which hunted its first whale in 70 years in 1999.
A marine biologist who works for the Makah pronounced the whale dead at 7:15 p.m., U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Shawn Eggert said. The whale went under about a mile from Cape Flattery, and did not resurface. The Coast Guard, following the whale at a distance of 500 yards, saw that buoys attached to the harpoon stopped moving.
The Coast Guard took the five rogue whalers into custody and turned them over to Makah tribal police for further questioning around 6 p.m. Saturday.
“Their fate will ultimately be decided by the tribe,” Eggert said.
The hunt wasn’t authorized by the tribal council or by the federal government.
“I don’t know why they did this. It’s terrible,” said John McCarty who, as a former member of the tribe’s whaling commission, has been an advocate of the Makah Nation’s right to resume whaling under an 1855 treaty.

Ultimately we will all have to abide by governmental decisions and honor the whales that are lost, but it will be easier to do if the tribe shows that this is truly a religious rite.
(NOAA media release below).

Photo Credit: KUOW

NOAA Release:
The Makah Tribe of Washington could hunt and land up to two gray whales on average per year over a 10-year period for ceremonial and subsistence purposes under a proposal that NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region announced today.
The proposal does not yet allow the Makah Tribe to begin hunting whales but moves the Tribe closer to that longstanding goal. An administrative law judge must first conduct a hearing, currently scheduled to begin on Aug. 12, 2019, to review the NOAA Fisheries proposal and make a recommendation to Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. Interested parties may request to participate in that hearing. Oliver would then make a final decision on whether to authorize the Makah Tribe to hunt gray whales.
If the Tribe is authorized to hunt gray whales, the Tribe would then need to apply for a permit, which would be subject to public notice and comment.
“We are moving forward carefully, and deliberately, to support the Tribe’s treaty rights while we also fully consider the potential impacts on the whales and protect their populations,” said Chris Yates, Assistant Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region.
Through the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay between the Makah Tribe and the U.S. government, the Tribe reserved “the right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and stations.” The Tribe has sought since the 1990s to exercise that right, long a centerpiece of tribal culture. A federal court determined in 2002 that the Tribe must first apply for a waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s (MMPA) take moratorium, which prohibits killing whales and other marine mammals.
In 2005 the Tribe sought a waiver of the MMPA, as the courts required. NOAA Fisheries has since evaluated the request through a 2015 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which attracted hundreds of public comments on all sides.
NOAA Fisheries’ action today proposes to waive the MMPA take moratorium to allow the Makah to hunt gray whales from the healthy and fully recovered Eastern North Pacific (ENP) population of gray whales, which today numbers about 27,000. The most recent stock assessment for ENP gray whales found in 2014 that up to 624 gray whales could be removed from the population each year without affecting its long-term sustainability.
The proposal would allow the Tribe to land up to three ENP gray whales in even-numbered years and one whale in odd-numbered years – less than the four whales per year on average that the Makah Tribe sought. The limits and other restrictions reduce the already remote possibility of Makah hunters encountering gray whales from the endangered Western North Pacific population that feed near Russia and occasionally migrate to the ENP. The limits also help protect a group of ENP gray whales that feed in and around the Makah Tribe’s hunting and fishing grounds in summer and return to the area on a regular basis.
“We have examined this proposal from every angle and have developed hunting regulations that provide for public safety, protect the gray whale populations, and respect the Makah Tribe’s treaty rights and culture,” Yates said.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Background
Proposed waiver and hunt regulations
Chronology of Makah hunting proposal
Frequently asked questions
 

Young gray whale successfully returned to the sea after three days on the beach

Photo courtesy of NOAA

It doesn’t happen often that whales can be returned to the ocean after stranding, but thanks to the dedicated effort of authorities and trained volunteers this young gray whale is among the lucky few. Please be aware that NOAA is facing budget cutbacks, and their ability to help whales and dolphins in need will be curtailed without funding. Please see this page, and contact your legislators (contact information is provided).

 Information on the rescue provided by NOAA spokesman Michael Milstein:

A rescue effort during high tide late Friday night freed a young gray whale that had been stranded on a remote beach in Olympic National Park and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary for about three days.
Responders from NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network and Olympic National Park fashioned a harness around the whale linked to pulleys anchored lower on the beach and on the shore. Experts from Cascadia Research Collective, SR3 [SeaLife Response, Rehabilitation, and Research] , and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife led responders in using the pulley system to turn the whale seaward and pull it into deeper water.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The team also dug a shallow trench around the whale to help float and position the whale as the tide came in. They had hoped the especially high tide at 10:19 p.m. would give the 24-foot whale its best chance of returning to the open ocean.
“The mission at one point seemed like it was failing with little progress made and the whale not seeming to be able to help and even appearing to turn back toward shore,” said John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Collective. “Then, at the last possible moment, with the whale in about four feet of water in the surf and the harness released, the whale started to swim.”
“A cheer went up in the darkness and the assembled team stood shining lights into the darkness and mist, stunned at the apparent turn of events and success,” Calambokidis recalled.
Experts estimated the whale as one to two years old, and in fair condition. Although the whale was earlier described as female, it is now believed to be a male. The whale remained alert throughout the stranding and tried aggressively to free itself several times during earlier high tides.
Historically it is unusual for large stranded whales to be successfully freed. The National Park Service and NOAA Fisheries thank the many volunteers and staff who assisted in the response.
“Whales are not designed to be out of water so their organ systems rapidly decline when beached and medical care is essential,” said Lesanna Lahner, wildlife veterinarian from SR3, a marine mammal rescue organization. “To help him over these hurdles, supportive medications such as B vitamins and anti-inflammatories were administered.”
Lahner and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife marine mammal biologist Dyanna Lambourn administered the medications.
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

NOAA Fisheries removed gray whales from the endangered species list in 1994 and estimates the population that migrates along the West Coast of the United States at about 20,000. Gray whales typically travel north from their Mexican breeding grounds to Arctic feeding grounds in spring and early summer.
Gray whales are unusual among whales in that they regularly feed in shallow waters. Several gray whales have been seen in recent months feeding in the vicinity of the stranding, which is in Olympic National Park and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
Rescuing large whales is inherently dangerous for both the animals and responders, and members of the marine mammal stranding network are highly trained in marine mammal biology and health, safety protocols, and emergency response procedures. NOAA Fisheries reminds the public not to approach stranded marine mammals and instead report them to the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network hotline at 1-866-767-6114.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

How a few minutes of your time can save a lot of whales [and keep seafood on your table]

Pilot whale stranding in New Zealand Credit: Reuters

The Problem

It’s game-on for offshore drilling in the Atlantic, and it will wreak havoc

Once big oil gets its hooks into the Atlantic seabed there will be no turning back, no way to unwind that clock. Even if they never cause a spill or erect a rig, untold damage will happen to marine life, from the tiniest organisms (see Seismic surveys now proven to kill zooplankton…there goes your crab dinner) to the great whales. And they can’t wait to get started.
The following stranding event caused by ExxonMobil in 2008 is a prime example of the deadly impact of oil exploration.
The story started on a typically breezy and hot day near the mouth of a lagoon on the island nation of Madagascar. Two small whales had beached and died, their gleaming bodies still fresh enough to be eaten by the astonished villagers who carried them off.
But that was just the beginning – the brackish and turbid water of the the Loza Lagoon began to fill with panicked whales swimming desperately away from the ocean world they knew. By the afternoon the deep ocean dwelling melon-headed whales had traveled 65 kilometers (40 miles) inland.

Slowly the lost and confused whales began to die. Amid the tangled mangroves, mudflats and on narrow beaches their skin blistered and their body temperature rose until death came as a reprieve. Impoverished villagers caught and ate an unknown number. Of the estimated 100 -200 melon-headed whales that entered the lagoon only a handful were known to survive, despite a dedicated rescue attempt.
Finally, after nearly a month, four whales were seen leaving the lagoon and heading out to sea.
What had caused the mayhem? After years of meticulous study scientists concluded that the culprit could be summed up in one word: Sonar.
Earsplitting, terrifyingly loud and relentless, the sound had bounced off the underwater cliffs and canyons in the deep ocean. It drove the whales out of their familiar habitat with nowhere to escape until they sought refuge in the lagoon death trap.
It turned out that ExxonMobil and partners were mapping the ocean floor along the coast prior to doing seismic surveys for oil when the stranding occurred, using the type of sonar employed by the navy that had caused the deaths of whales in the Bahamas in 2000. In War of the Whales, author Joshua Horwitz carefully documents the Bahamas strandings but until the sad event in Madagascar no one had be able to document that the private sector – big oil – similarly destroyed marine life.

There is no way to know how many other species were affected and/or died in the ocean or at other remote locations during this one sonar mapping fiasco. And it was expensive – the investments by the scientific community, local officials, and rescue organizations were deep, and because the local population of Madagascar feasted on the toxic meat of the freakishly out of place whales they may experience health consequences.
In the end the whale deaths were for nothing: ExxonMobil and its partners just didn’t find a significant enough puddle of oil hidden under the seafloor to be worthwhile.
And now big oil is poised to repeat their activities off the Atlantic coast of the US. Marine life will have to endure various seismic challenges, from the sonar that drove the melon-headed whales to seek safety where the noise couldn’t penetrate (but for which they were not adapted to survive), to the repeated nearly year long pounding of seismic noise.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

These steps will guide you through the commenting process

NOAA Fisheries wants the public to weigh in on this – the oil companies can’t operate seismic surveys unless they get permits from the energy bureau, and the energy bureau won’t issue permits unless NOAA is satisfied that existing restrictions are met.

  1. Go to the Federal Register website and familiarize yourself with the process.
  2. Choose current research to support your comments.  (The links below are studies published in 2017 and either were done in the region specified or include species known in the specified area.)
  3. Email your comments to:  ITP.Laws@noaa.gov by July 6th.

But remember, NOAA will NOT consider comments other than as specified. “We will only consider comments that are relevant to marine mammal species that occur in U.S. waters of the Mid- and South Atlantic and the potential effects of geophysical survey activities on those species and their habitat.”
Suggested links:
Natural and anthropogenic ocean noise recorded at long-term and temporary observatories
High suckling rates and acoustic crypsis of humpback whale neonates maximise potential for mother–calf energy transfer
Cetacean sightings and acoustic detections during a seismic survey off Nicaragua and Costa Rica, November-December 2004
Nowhere to go: noise impact assessments for marine mammal populations with high site fidelity
 

Background information:

Having removed the protections against drilling along the Atlantic Coast put in place by then President Obama, the Trump administration is trying to push NOAA Fisheries to use the old, lower standards for sound levels rather than the new standards that were set to start this year. And they want the permits to be expedited so that the oil companies can start the seismic surveys as soon as possible.
From Trump’s executive orderImplementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy

Sec. 9. Expedited Consideration of Incidental Harassment Authorizations, Incidental-Take, and Seismic Survey Permits. The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce shall, to the maximum extent permitted by law, expedite all stages of consideration of Incidental Take Authorization requests, including Incidental Harassment Authorizations and Letters of Authorization, and Seismic Survey permit applications under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 U.S.C. 1331 et seq., and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.
Sec. 10Review of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Technical Memorandum NMFS-OPR-55. The Secretary of Commerce shall review NOAA’s Technical Memorandum NMFS-OPR-55 of July 2016 (Technical Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammal Hearing)… take all steps permitted by law to rescind or revise that guidance, if appropriate.

 

References and further reading: