Outcry From Animal Welfare Groups As NOAA Grants Makah Tribe Permission To Hunt Gray Whales Off Washington State

Animal welfare groups express disappointment after U.S. federal regulators grant the Makah Tribe of Washington State a waiver of exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to hunt gray whales over the next decade.

Although there is significant respect for the cultural traditions of the Makah Tribe and other indigenous groups, we do not support the killing of gray whales, especially considering the extensive efforts to recover the species from the brink of extinction.

Eastern North Pacific (ENP) gray whales have suffered significant impacts from climate change and ocean warming, with their population dropping by 50% between 2016 and 2023. These whales also encounter various threats along their migratory route, such as ship strikes, bycatch, ocean noise, and pollution.

“Allowing any hunt of gray whales in U.S. waters, despite evidence of significant climate change impacts to the Arctic and, consequently, gray whale feeding patterns, is reckless and myopic,” said DJ Schubert, senior wildlife biologist at Animal Welfare Institute’s Marine Wildlife Program. “The ecological disruptions in the Arctic linked to ocean warming are only getting worse, and the gray whale and other species will suffer the consequences.”

Although estimates released in March suggest that the ENP population may be rebounding, the purported increase from 14,526 in 2023 to 19,260 in 2024 seems biologically implausible. In March 2023, NOAA announced the end of the gray whale “unusual mortality event,” which saw the ENP population decline by 46% from nearly 27,000 whales in 2016 to 14,450 in 2023. According to a study published this year, this decrease was attributed to the decline in gray whale prey in their Arctic feeding areas, causing them to starve.

The best available evidence indicates that gray whale calf production remains at historically low levels this year. Gray whale strandings have persisted, with 19 in Mexico, at least 15 in the United States, and at least one in Canada. Furthermore, due to the dramatic changes in Arctic ecology caused by climate change, the future trend in gray whale populations is uncertain.

There is concern that NOAA’s decision will not adequately protect the Pacific Coast Feeding Group (PCFG) or Western North Pacific (WNP) gray whales, which inhabit the same waters as the Eastern North Pacific (ENP) gray whales. Between 2016 and 2022, the PCFG gray whale population declined by 21%, from 256 to 202. Despite compelling scientific evidence, the federal government has not yet designated these whales as a distinct management unit, which would trigger additional protections.

While WNP gray whales are listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act, their current status is unknown due to a lack of new population numbers being published since 2015, when there was estimated to be just 290 whales. Yet, it will be virtually impossible for the Makah Tribe to distinguish between ENP, PCFG, and WNP gray whales while hunting them, making the government’s decision to issue a waiver all the more misguided.

Before the Makah can hunt gray whales, NOAA will require that the tribe meet certain conditions, such as using hunting methods that comply with “humane standards” under the MMPA. The Animal Welfare Institute believes that the proposed hunt will not be able to meet these robust standards and will result in unconscionable suffering, and remains hopeful that this event will not move forward.

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

More on this topic

Popular stories

Moby & Joaquin Phoenix Join Los Angeles City Councilmembers At The Save The Amazon Press Conference

Los Angeles City Councilmembers Paul Koretz and David Ryu joined Indigenous leaders and local activists Moby & Joaquin Phoenix to witness the City Council’s historic...

Breaking! Massive Oil Spill From Grounded Ship In Mauritius, An Island Nation In East Africa, Is Causing An Environmental Disaster

Photo from Greenpeace Africa An environmental catastrophe has been unfolding on the island of Mauritius, after a Japanese cargo ship, vessel MV Wakashio, struck a...

Carl’s Jr. & Beyond Meat Partner For An Earth Day Plant-Based Takeover Offering Complimentary Food At Their Glendale, CA, Location Tomorrow

Carl’s Jr. and Beyond Meat are inspiring people to Go Beyond this Earth Day by hosting a one-of-a-kind, one day plant-based menu takeover at...