Recently, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries (NOAA Fisheries) released a draft of an environmental study that can pave the way for resuming tribal whaling.

The draft study proposes six different possibilities, which range from a ban on the annual hunt for the North Pacific gray whales to permitting up to 24 hunts in the next six years.

The draft is asking the public to give their comments on the requests of the Makah tribe. Donna Darm, the associate deputy regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries in the West Coast region, suggests that this is the first ever step that is in a public process, which can make the government to authorize whaling by a tribal group.

"This is the public's opportunity to look at the alternatives we've developed, and let us know if we have fully and completely analyzed the impacts," said Darm.

In 1994, the government removed gray whales from the endangered and threatened species. NOAA Fisheries estimate that there are about 20,000 gray whales in North Pacific. The Makah tribe encountered a number of criticism from various rights groups in 1999 after it hunted a gray whale off the Olympic Peninsula. The hunt was the first for the tribe in over 70 years.

The Makah tribe associates whaling as subsistence and ceremonial nature.

"Whaling and whales are central to Makah culture. The event of a whale hunt requires rituals and ceremonies which are deeply spiritual. Makah whaling is the subject and inspiration of Tribal songs, dances, designs, and basketry. For the Makah Tribe, whale hunting provides a purpose and a discipline which benefits their entire community," according to the Makah tribe's website.

In 1855, the Makah tribe signed a treaty with the U.S. government, which was called the Treaty of Neah Bay, which preserves the right of Makah people to hunt seals and whales. In 2004, a U.S. court ruled that the tribe needs an approval from NOAA Fisheries for whaling.

In 2008, NOAA Fisheries also issued a draft study, but it was withdrawn after four years. Experts suggest that one of the reasons for the withdrawal of the study were concerns about the protection of the gray whales groups from the western Pacific that were still endangered and migrated to eastern Pacific.

The latest draft study will soon be finalized and the Makah tribe are hopeful that they will get the right of whaling in the near term.

Photo: Sam Beebe | Flickr

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