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Washington state Indigenous tribe cleared to hunt gray whales for 10 years

People of the Makah, a Washington state Indigenous tribe (pictured, 1998) based in Neah Bay, have subsisted on Eastern North Pacific gray whales for generations. File Photo by H. Ruckerman/UPI
People of the Makah, a Washington state Indigenous tribe (pictured, 1998) based in Neah Bay, have subsisted on Eastern North Pacific gray whales for generations. File Photo by H. Ruckerman/UPI | License Photo

June 13 (UPI) -- The Makah, a Washington state Indigenous tribe, has been given a waiver from federal rules so that it can hunt as many as 25 Eastern North Pacific gray whales over 10 years in U.S. waters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday.

The tribe, based in Neah Bay, Wash., has received a waiver from the Marine Mammal Protection Act to hunt the whale, of which the Makah have subsisted on for generations.

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The waiver issued Thursday aligns with the Treaty of Neah Bay of 1855 and the quotas established by the International Whaling Commission.

"This final rule represents a major milestone in the process to return ceremonial and subsistence hunting of Eastern North Pacific gray whales to the Makah Tribe," said Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. "The measures adopted today honor the Makah Tribe's treaty rights and their cultural whaling tradition that dates back well over 1,000 years, and is fundamental to their identity and heritage."

Prior to any hunt, any tribe has to enter a cooperative agreement with NOAA Fisheries Under the Whaling Convention Act and has to receive a hunt permit.

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Under terms of the rule, the tribe can't hunt more than three whales each year in U.S. waters. In past years, the quota has been transferred to Russia. The International Whaling Commission is shared between the Makah Tribe and the Chukotkan Natives in Russia.

NOAA Fisheries said it will continue to work to protect endangered Western North Pacific gray whales and the Pacific Coast Feeding Group of Eastern North Pacific gray whales.

Earlier this year, NOAA Fisheries canceled the Unusual Mortality Event it had issued for the Eastern North Pacific gray whale population. Between December 17, 2018, and November 9, 2023, 690 gray whales were stranded, and scientists found changes in food, malnutrition, decreased birth rates, and increased mortality.

"It involved hundreds of dead gray whales that stranded along the Pacific coast from Mexico to Alaska, including in gray whale wintering, migratory, and feeding areas. Scientists estimate the UME led to a roughly 40 percent decline in the population of eastern North Pacific gray whales," NOAA said in a statement announcing the closure of the Unusual Mortality Event.

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