Local tribe’s planned whale hunt draws criticism, support





SEATTLE — The Makah Indian tribe has the legal right to hunt gray whales, but some say the practice is cruel and outdated and should no longer be allowed.

It’s been a decade since the Makah tribe in Neah Bay last killed any gray whales, but tribal leaders have announced plans to hunt 20 whales over the next five years.

The tribe says the killing is for cultural reasons, and for 2,000 years it has been a central part of who they are. But many people who attended a Monday public hearing on the matter say the world has lots of examples of cultural traditions that are plain wrong.

Now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration must make their decision on the law and the numbers.

European and Russian hunters nearly wiped out the gray wale population, dropping it from 20,000 to 2,000. Gray whales were then placed on the endangered species list, and the population has since returned to 20,000.

Federal regulators have yet to take a position on the Makah plan, but officials listened to both sides during an emotionally charged public hearing on Monday.

“We did not pick a preferred recommendation because we knew people feel very strongly about that. And we didn’t want to pre-judge it,” NOAA’s Michael Milstein said.

While some turned out Monday to voice support for the tribe, most of the speakers steadfastly oppose the hunt.

“They should perhaps consider what some of the other tribes have done, and honor them in a different way,” said Katherine Pruitt.

Others, including members of the Chippewa tribe, voiced support for the Makah plan.

“It’s in their treaty rights. You know, that’s the big thing. We need to honor it,” said Jeff Powell.

No members of the Makah tribe attended Monday’s meetings. The second and final public hearing will be held Wednesday evening in Port Angeles.

Whale of a good story: Humpback comeback and new orca


Photo courtesy of Mike Malleson.
Photo courtesy of Mike Malleson.





ANACORTES, Wash. — In a sea of bad news, some good news regarding whales on two fronts came out of the Pacific Whale Watch Association conference Monday in Anacortes.

Government researchers said the four recent newborn orca could be the beginning of a trend, anticipated because the number of female Southern Resident Killer Whales at calf-bearing age is at its highest known levels.

Additionally, the number of humpback whales in the Salish Sea has reached its highest documented level: 90 different humpbacks were photo identified in 2015, according to data unveiled Monday by photo ID expert Mark Malleson of Prince of Whales whale watch cruises.

The Salish Sea includes Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands as well as British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia. The name recognizes and pays tribute to the first inhabitants of the region, the Coast Salish.

“The newborns are definitely an optimistic point that I’m really excited about,” said orca researcher Eric Ward of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While some researchers believe southern resident Killer Whale females generally require a family structure to bear a surviving calf, Ward believes viable females are the most important factor.

“We think now that based on the kind of age structure of the southern resident population there is more potential to produce calves than there ever has been in the past,” he said.

After whalers nearly pushed humpback whales to extinction and killed roughly 1,000 in the Salish Sea, according to historical accounts discussed at the PWWA conference, they’ve made a dramatic rediscovery of Salish Sea habitat in recent years. New data from Malleson says humpbacks identified last year were three times more than were spotted just three years ago. Humpbacks were first spotted regularly returning to the Salish Sea about a decade ago.

The good news doesn’t stop with whales.

Andrew Trites of the University of British Columbia said all of the 11 marine mammals found in the Salish Sea are generally increasing in population. Seal populations are increasing at exponential rates so much so that they have been competing with killer whales for salmon, concerning some researchers. But others believe Harbor Seal populations are leveling off because they are a favorite food of meat-eating transient killer whales, whose numbers are also increasing.

Trites and others are about to roll out a test attachment to about 20 seals that will measure whenever they eat salmon smolt, or young salmon. Researchers want to better understand just how many salmon smolt are being eaten each year by seals.

Trites called it a “new natural balance.”

“One reason we find that numbers oversell are doing so well is because maybe we have not done such a bad job after all of stewardship of the coastline and rivers that are spilling into the Salish Seal,” he said.

Gray Whales are expected to arrive in the Salish Sea as early as next week. Humpbacks are due in July. And all three pods of Southern Resident Killer Whales should be in the Salish Sea by May.

More information is available online.

Endangered newborn baby orca is a girl, experts say

In this Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014 photo provided by the Center for Whale Research, a new baby orca whale swims near its mother near Vancouver Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia. (AP Photo/Center for Whale Research, Ken Balcomb)
In this Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014 photo provided by the Center for Whale Research, a new baby orca whale swims near its mother near Vancouver Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia. (AP Photo/Center for Whale Research, Ken Balcomb)


By Associated Press and KOMO News Staff


The Center for Whale Research in Washington state says the baby, part of the J pod of the southern resident orca population, has stayed healthy since it was first spotted Dec. 30 off the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia.

The newborn whale is being called J-50. Researchers say they are now working with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans to gather more information about the baby’s mother.

Experts originally identified a whale in her early 40s known as J-16 seen swimming alongside the calf as its mother, but now say she might have actually been looking after the newborn for her daughter – a 16-year-old orca called J-36.

If J-16 is the mother, she will be the oldest southern resident orca to give birth in more than four decades of field studies.

Southern resident killer whales are considered an endangered species, with just 78 in the waters of British Columbia and Washington state, including the new arrival. But the arrival of the newborn orca is considered an encouraging sign following the death earlier this month of a pregnant killer whale from the same group.

Now, everyone is hoping J-50 survives. An estimated 35 percent to 45 percent of orcas die in their first year, said Howard Garrett of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network.