A whale died this weekend near Seattle after being struck with five harpoons and four sealing harpoons and then shot with a .460 caliber rifle—a firearm so powerful that the bullet can travel four miles. The 40-foot-long gray whale eventually succumbed to the grievous wounds and was left for dead in the ocean. It was a miserable and awful death for a gentle creature just swimming around and living life in Neah Bay—a whale who had perhaps come across thousands of boats, many filled with whale watchers, and never saw any reason to fear them.
Five lawbreakers from the Makah tribe in Washington state killed the animal.
The leader of the band of poachers was Wayne Johnson.
After being detained by the U.S. Coast Guard, and then turned over to tribal police, Johnson was anything but contrite.
"I’m not ashamed. I’m feeling kind of proud," he told The Seattle Times. "There is only a few guys in Neah Bay that can get a whale and bring everyone home safely. You think one of the only whaling captains in 77 years could give it up? I should have done it years ago. I come from a whaling family… It’s in the blood."
The Makah did kill a whale with federal approval in 1999, but prior to that, they hadn’t killed a whale since the 1920s—during the days of the Model T and silent films. The idea that this is some cultural touchstone—even though three generations of Makah people have not engaged in whaling—is folly. Johnson is, above all else, a scofflaw and a poacher—and a cruel, remorseless one at that.
The Makah were well aware that a federal court had ordered them not to kill a whale. The tribe has been seeking a waiver to the Marine Mammal Protection Act that would allow them to go whaling and not be bound by the protective provisions of the Act. The National Marine Fisheries Service is seriously considering the idea—an idea strongly opposed by The Humane Society of the United States.
A great whale is now dead, the creature’s life ended and flesh rotting. For no good reason. Just the charade that whaling is somehow "in the blood." A more nebulous and impossible-to-hold-onto notion can hardly be conjured up.