Makah Indian Tribe, Washington


A seven-member Makah family spent the weekend hunting for a gray whale but failed to make a kill despite several close encounters. The family headed by Paul Parker hunted for about 10 hours on both May 6 and 7 in sunny weather and mostly calm seas. They were watched from a distance by the U.S. Coast Guard and a flotilla of anti-whaling protest boats. Sunday's hunt was the fourth by the family in the past month. Their 10-day permit expires May 16, after which they can apply for a new one. "They're not discouraged at all," said Keith Johnson, head of the Makah Whaling Commission. The Makah are using the hunts for gray whales as a means of reviving their tribal culture. They killed a whale last spring for the first time in about 70 years. Anti-whaling activists fear it could open the door to a worldwide renewal of commercial whaling.

An anti-whaling activist arrested last year was acquitted May 3 by a U.S. District Court jury. Harold Malkin, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said Scott Hopper of Port Angeles had been charged with negligent operation of a vehicle on the water, a misdemeanor. Hopper was accused of speeding toward a Makah Indian whaling canoe and passing over a gray whale near the surface.

A June 12 trial date has been scheduled for a woman accused of trying to disrupt the whale hunt. Erin Abbott of the Ocean Defense International group appeared in federal court May 5 for arraignment on a charge that she violated the so-called Coast Guard "exclusionary zone" around the Makahs' whaling canoe. Abbott is accused of racing at the canoe on a personal watercraft and splashing water from her wake on the whalers. Abbott suffered a broken shoulder and other injuries when she was run over by a Coast Guard boat during the confrontation April 20.

The state Legislature set aside $1.65 million to keep a rescue tugboat at Neah Bay next fall and winter, but the program's most vocal advocate says a tug should be there year-round. "I think it's important to have protection there this winter, but my bottom line is I don't know a good season to have a spill," said Fred Felleman of the environmental group Ocean Advocates. Marine and coastal life is at its most vibrant and most vulnerable in the spring and summer, he said. The Makah, based at Neah Bay, support the tug. "We're really glad that it happened," said Gordon Smith, a tribal councilman, of the state funds. "At least it gives the tug through another winter. There's nothing permanent, but it gives us more time to work for having a tug stationed permanently. The shipping industry says it's not necessary to post a tug at Neah Bay - the northwesternmost point of the lower 48 states at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which separates the United States and Canada. The 126-foot tugboat Barbara Foss has been stationed there under a $7,500-a-day U.S. Navy contract since December. In five months it has responded to one emergency call.