Tag Archives: gray whale

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

[hdnfactbox title=”Attending the Hearing: Q & A”]

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

Humpback Whales Intervene in Orca Attack on Gray Whale Calf (2012)

Please share widely, I am reposting the work I did for Digital Journal here in protest of their treatment of the journalist Elizabeth Batt.  I have asked them to remove my articles but have gotten no reply, so decided to publish it here at the Seattle Post Intelligencer which doesn’t throw its contributors under the bus and who still believe in free press.
MAY 8, 2012
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Monterey – In what is probably the first time such an event has been witnessed and recorded, humpback whales appeared to try to intervene when a pod of killer whales attacked a baby gray whale.
Spring is a dynamic time for whale watching in Monterey Bay, California – gray whales are migrating north with calves in tow, blue whales move into the area to feed, and humpback whales return from their winter migration. Transient orcas (killer whales) are also present, as this eco-type of orca utilizes other marine mammals as a primary food source.
Skilled at killing even large whales, they regularly take the calves of gray whales – hard as it is to witness, this is a normal predator/prey relationship. But what occurred on May 3rd, 2012 in full view of whale watchers was nothing short of remarkable.
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Gray Whale Calf: this calf was completely exhausted, under attack by the orcas for at least 30 minutes. Its mother is holding it up. © Alisa Schulman-Janiger/Monterey Bay Whale Watch
Through the hazy overcast skies, the Monterey Bay Whale Watch boat captain John Mayer on the SeaWolf ll, spotted the whales in the distance and knew something unusual was going on. As the boat drew closer to the scene, whale watchers were stunned by what they saw. A pod of approximately nine transient orcas was in the process of trying to separate a new calf from its mother, but what amazed even the seasoned captain and crew was the presence of two large humpback whales which may have been trying to intervene.
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Two humpbacks were present throughout the attack, and were joined shortly after the attack ended by five more. © Alisa Schulman-Janiger/Monterey Bay Whale Watch

The mother gray whale struggled valiantly to save her calf, lifting it out of the water to breathe, but she was no match for the coordinated attack as the orcas repeatedly grabbed the fatigued calf and flipped it upside down to prevent it from breathing. During the half hour that the first group of whale watchers observed the contest for survival, the two humpbacks splashed, ‘trumpeted’, and moved in as close as a body length from the grey whale mother and her calf.

At this point, whale researchers Alisa Schulman-Janiger and Nancy Black arrived on the scene in Monterey Bay Whale Watch boat Pt. Sur Clipper, and continued to observe the unusual encounter for nearly seven hours. Shortly after their arrival the baby whale was killed, and the mother took temporary refuge by their boat before heading towards shore.
Schulman-Janiger said  that first two, then three more humpbacks joined the original pair, and the seven humpbacks “repeatedly followed the orcas, trumpet blowing, tail slashing, rolling, and head raising. They kept returning to the area of the carcass where the orcas were ripping into the blubber of the dead calf”.
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A humpback whale follows a subgroup of orcas. This was the most common orientation seen: humpbacks following the orcas (rather than the reverse), sometimes at increased speeds. © Alisa Schulman-Janiger/Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Researcher Nancy Black speculated that these humpback whales may have been protecting the carcass, making it more difficult for the orcas to feed, but without underwater cameras it is difficult to be certain.

“What we do know”, said Schulman-Janiger, “is that these humpback whales seemed EXTREMELY distressed: nearly every surfacing over the entire observation period was accompanied by trumpet blows. They even put themselves into potential harm’s way by diving right next to the gray whale mom – where her calf was under attack”. She noted that humpback whales were documented to have rescued a seal from orcas in the Antarctic, and underscored the importance of continuing to protect these whales while we gain more understanding.
Dr. Lori Marino, senior lecturer in neuroscience at Emory University in Atlanta, is a renowned expert in the cognitive ability of whales and dolphins and she shared her opinion of this remarkable event:

This is apparently a case of humpback whales trying to help a member of another cetacean species. This shows that they are capable of tremendous behavioral flexibility, giving even more credence to reports of cetaceans coming to the aid of human beings. They seem to have the capacity to generalize from one situation to another and from one kind of being to another. Moreover, they seem to sympathize with members of other species and have the motivation to help.
One reason may be that humpback whales, and many other cetaceans, have specialized cells in their brains called Von Economo neurons (“spindle cells”) and these are shared with humans, great apes, and elephants. The exact function of these elongated neurons is still unknown but they are found in exactly the same locations in all mammal brains for the species that have them.
What is intriguing is that these parts of the mammal brain are thought to be responsible for social organization, empathy, speech, intuition about the feelings of others, and rapid “gut” reactions. So the presence of these cells is neurological support for the idea that cetaceans are capable of empathy and higher-order thinking and feeling.
In either case these whales are apparently demonstrating a high level of sensitivity and concern (morality, if you will) that is laudable in any species.

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The seven humpbacks sometimes stayed in a very tight group, and other times broke up into subgroups. © Alisa Schulman-Janiger/Monterey Bay Whale Watch
 

It is Time to Unlike Plastic and Unfriend Plastic Bags

Sure, plastic makes our lives easier and it is impossible to escape its use entirely, but bit by bit plastic is destroying ocean life, and permeating the food you eat. From The Ecology Center:

…some chemicals migrate from the plastic packaging to the foods they contain. Examples of plastics contaminating food have been reported with most plastic types, including Styrene from polystyrene, plasticizers from PVC, antioxidants from polyethylene, and Acetaldehyde from PET.
The plastic used for food packaging, plastic wrap, containers for toiletries, cosmetics, crib bumpers, floor tiles, pacifiers, shower curtains, toys, water pipes, garden hoses, auto upholstery, inflatable swimming pools etc can cause cancer, birth defects, genetic changes, chronic bronchitis, ulcers, skin diseases, deafness, vision failure, indigestion, and liver dysfunction.


This video shows the Brydes whale who died after becoming stranded on a Cairns beach [Australia]. The post-mortem found that the whales stomach was tightly packed with six square metres of plastic – much of it plastic checkout bags.
Here in Puget Sound:

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean:

Please make even a small change in your use of plastics, and support plastic bag bans where you live or visit. http://www.change.org/petitions/friday-harbor-town-council-ban-single-use-plastic-bags
For information on the proposed Washington statewide ban: Environment Washington