Whaling incident sparks environmental debate

Whaling incident sparks environmental debate
The image is taken from home video, which captured two boats chasing a gray whale on Saturday.
Critics against whale hunting are chiming in on the recent whaling incident involving the Makah tribe.

The incident comes at a time when the U.S. Whaling Commission is trying to crack down on countries for their whaling practices. Conservationists and animal rights activists say those countries are now watching the U.S. to see whether it enforces the laws it preaches.

The debate is over what happens next.

Animal rights activists want those responsible prosecuted, claiming the Marine Mammal Protection Act outlaws whale hunting except in cases of subsistence.

"It takes a coward to go out and hunt a whale today," said Will Anderson, an activist.

Activists claim the tribe not only broke the law, but also demonstrated the leaders' lack of authority.

"They have to follow the National Environmental Policy Act just like the rest of us," Anderson said. "They have violated that and demonstrated to us that they don't have control over their own people, they don't even have control over a .50-caliber weapon."

But Brian Gorman with the National Marine Fisheries says it's not so black and white.

"We need to assess what happened and put the facts together and make a decision whether to prosecute or not," he said.

A tribal treaty gives the Makah a right to hunt. But when members resumed their hunt eight years ago, conservationists sued. Conservationists say it's no different this time around.

"I see this as no different than, for instance, the federal government going after Michael Vick for dog-fighting charges. This is far more cruel than dog fighting and it's also a felony," said Paul Watson, a conservationist.

Following the 1999 hunt, the courts ruled the Makah Tribe must get a waiver before resuming the practice. The tribe has been trying to obtain a permit for a year.

"We were probably a few months from making a final decision and, while certainly it wasn't a rubber stamp process, the situation looked fairly good for them," Gorman said.

Anderson says the incident puts the U.S. in a vulnerable spot at a time when it's trying to persuade other countries to follow the international law on whaling.

"The U.S. government looks like a hypocrite and is being hypocritical in its support for Makah whaling," he said.

Under federal law, the five tribal members face jail time and fines. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says it will sue the federal government if those responsible are not prosecuted.