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

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

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.