Stopping Whaling on Our Own Turf - A Legal Battle to Protect Gray Whales

Posted on: November 5th, 2019

Sea Shepherd opposes the intentional killing of cetaceans, no matter the circumstances. From the Faroe Islands to Iceland, from Japan to Norway, Sea Shepherd’s opposition to whaling is categorical and uncompromising.

In the present case, there are a multitude of additional reasons to oppose a hunt off the coast of Washington: one of those is respect for the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the rule of law. The MMPA prohibits intentional taking of marine mammals, and imposes a heavy burden on anyone seeking a waiver of these protections. In requesting a waiver of MMPA protections for Eastern North Pacific (ENP) gray whales, NOAA Fisheries has failed to meet this heavy burden of proof under the MMPA – a burden that can only be satisfied on the basis of the best available science.

Although a waiver is being sought as to the ENP gray whales, other smaller populations of gray whales are intermingled with them. One such group is the summer resident gray whales (a/k/a the Pacific Coast Feeding Group) of which there are only 243 individuals that are enjoyed by whale watchers every year in Washington and Oregon. The other group is the endangered Western North Pacific (WNP) gray whales that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The extreme risks to these smaller populations from the proposed Makah hunt – including the inability of the hunters to distinguish them from ENP gray whales – further supports denial of the MMPA waiver.

A third reason for opposing the hunt is the present Unusual Mortality Event (UME) declared by NOAA Fisheries for gray whales earlier this year. Over 200 gray whales have washed up dead along the Pacific Coast this year. Given that most whales sink when they die, the actual number of dead whales is likely closer to 5,400. While the precise cause of the UME has not been determined, the evidence collected so far strongly suggests that the gray whales are starving to death. Accordingly, the proposed hunt will only add yet one more stressor on struggling gray whale populations in the Pacific.

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