Whales and moans

A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic,” said Stalin, who understood such things too well. Likewise whale deaths. When the Makahs finally killed their whale, folks who haven’t fretted noticeably over the fates of thousands and millions of Kosovars, Rwandans, Sudanese, etc., kept telling me how desolate and devastated they felt. The whaling hubbub eclipsed another development with much greater potential impact on marine waters and wildlife: The Coast Guard closed the docket in its pivotal study on how to protect the Strait of Juan de Fuca from groundings and oil spills, a study that appears slanted toward the weaker protection it and industry favor. No media caught the airplane banner flown over Seattle’s annual tugboat races: “VP Gore & Gov. Locke—Keep Rescue Tug in Neah Bay.” They were all out whale watching at Neah Bay.

“Methinks it is like a weasel”

Even though they had the Coast Guard to drive off protesters and a high-powered rifle to do the actual killing, it was impressive to see the whalers succeed so easily. The way they fumbled around last fall (remember the gunner sent flying by the rifle’s recoil?), you had to wonder if they ever would.

OK, guys, you proved your point, showed Sea Shepherd what for, and affirmed your treaty rights. What a great time for a magnanimous gesture—for the tribe to declare victory and let the Sea Shepherds go home, by voluntarily ceasing whaling. Install a new case of trophies from this latest hunt and invite all the whale huggers (who will then drop their boycott) to come see your splendid tribal museum, full of whaling art and artifacts from the old days.

Instead, the Makahs are talking about following this tribal hunt with family hunts, as in the old days. There are five traditional whaling families. If all get their whales, who will eat them? We’re not talking the nice, mild rorqual sashimi the Japanese like. Rumor has it there’s still tough, gamey meat sitting in Neah Bay freezers from a baby gray caught in a net three years ago. Even if there were a market for gray whale, the Makahs have guaranteed they won’t sell it.

So what to do with tons of whale? Perhaps what Siberian natives reportedly do with their “subsistence” kill: start a mink farm and convert the meat to fancy fur. That would really set the animal rightists off.

Land for whales?

Or maybe they should consider the “way out” newly proposed by Sea Shepherd: The Makahs might relinquish the whaling rights their 1855 treaty guarantees in return for some of the lands it took from them—notably the coastal strip to the hallowed Ozette site, now in Olympic National Park. There’s precedent for returning national park land to tribes: In February, the Timbesha Shoshone were awarded a small part of Death Valley and co-management of much more. The Makahs have always looked askance at Sea Shepherd overtures and said their treaty rights aren’t for sale. Is a swap different?

‘It is very like a whale’

Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson claims gray whale is so unpalatable, its Siberian name means “whale that makes you shit.” Or was that spit? One lingering image from this long-awaited hunt was tribespeople spitting out their first bites of whale meat on the beach. And that wasn’t the only incongruous spectacle . . .

Strange wrapping: The carcass was garlanded with yellow crime-scene tape. This is not the way to package an event, folks.

Strange rite: Likewise, news photos of jubilant whalers doing back-flip dives off the floating carcass hardly bolstered the solemn, reverent image the tribe has tried to project as it “meets the whale.”

Strange food: After 70 whale-less years, folks scoured the Internet and a Japanese cookbook to find out how to cook it. And we thought we were kidding when we offered Japanese and Norwegian recipes (SW, 10/15/98).

Strange smell: Federal officials and an Alaskan Inuit brought down to help with the butchering called plaintively for Makahs to join in—as meat and blubber were left to rot overnight.

Strange bedfellows: The property-rights movement, which often opposes tribal sovereignty, heartily embraces indigenous whaling campaigns from Neah Bay to Grenada to Iceland. The Web site of the property-rights umbrella group Alliance for America salutes the BC-based World Council of Whalers and urges, “Iceland Needs Your Support,” next to polemics by Don Young and Malcolm Wallop. Similar materials appear in the Trumpet Call newsletter. All the stranger when property-rights stalwart Jack Metcalf is Congress’ most ardent anti-whaling crusader.

Dumbo watch

Contrary to the way the idiot who wrote this column last week spelled her name, the science reporter who recently left The Seattle Times is Diedtra Henderson.

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