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NOAA issues new preferred alternative for Makah whale hunt

A woman stands next to hunting canoes below the skeleton of a whale.
Bellamy Pailthorp
Janine Ledford, executive director at the Makah Cultural and Research Center, said whaling is challenging and expensive but at the heart of Makah culture.

A long-awaited decision on the Makah tribe’s application to conduct a whale hunt will come within a year, according to federal regulators who issueda supplemental environmental impact statement on July 1.

The supplemental EIS includes a new preferred alternative that the agency is recommending for approval. It outlines new seasons for the tribe’s hunt of Pacific gray whales.

In a winter to spring season, starting each December, the tribe would be allowed to take up to three whales. For summer hunts, which would start in July and run through October, they could take one whale, with an overall annual limit of three per year. That’s two fewer than the tribe requested.

”We know the tribe has been waiting a long time to get an answer on this. And, you know, we all feel the need to move this forward. But again, we have to do it very deliberately and carefully to make sure that we're taking everything into account and considering the risk to these whales that many people care about,” said Michael Milstein, a NOAA Fisheries public affairs officer.

The new seasons are designed to protect two sub-groups of gray whales, including gray whales from the Western North Pacific which are classified as endangered. The main target of the hunt are Eastern North Pacific gray whales, a robust population that was over-hunted until the 1950s, but recovered and was removed from the Endangered Species list in 1994.

By the end of next June, the head of NOAA Fisheries will decide whether to grant the Makah tribe a waiver allowing the hunt under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. An administrative law judge alreadyissued his rulingafter lengthy public testimony. He said yes, but recommended some adjustments.

“We've heard from a lot of different voices on this, including but not limited to the tribes. So we are doing our best to hear everyone and take that into account," said Milstein.

KNKX reached out to the Makah Tribe for comment. Makah Tribal Council Chairman TJ Greene said the tribe is still reviewing the 119-page statement and not able to comment at this time.

Public comments on the new proposal are open until August 15th.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to