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- Migrant Issue vs. Resident Issue -

The important issue: Resident Whales vs Migrating Whales and why is it important!

The term "resident whales" describes the relatively small group of whales that take up residence along the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington and Vancouver Island, between the months of March and November. This population of between 50-200 whales consists of both sexes and all ages. Many return every summer, with some adults having returned each year for at least 25 years. Most of these whales join the southward winter migration to the waters of Baja, Mexico.

What are the whales doing here? Eating! Gray Whales usually feed in the shallow waters, which brings them very close to shore. They scoop up big mouthfuls of mud, the filter out the edible organisms with their baleen. (They don't have teeth).

Their diet includes worms, crabs, tiny shrimp and small fish. They have also been observed skimming food on the surface. They have the most varied feeding methods of any kind of whale.

Our coastal areas, including the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, are rich enough in food to support this sub-group of the gray whale population. These residents don't need to make the full migration up to the Arctic to eat.

In Washington State these resident whales have been studied, photographed, and given I.D. numbers since 1984. Jim Darling, West Coast Whale Research Foundation, has participated in this extensive research.

Are the Makah hunting resident whales or migrating whales in accordance with their own Management Plan for Makah Treaty, Gray Whale Hunting? The management plan states the following:

"July 21, 1998 11. Will the Makahs harm mother whales with calf or calves? No. This is specifically prohibited by the Makah Whaling Management Plan. Only adult migrating whales will be taken."

Furthermore, "The Makah Indian Tribe and Whaling: A Fact Sheet Issued by the Makah Whaling Commission" states: "No member may strike a gray whale calf or a female gray whale accompanied by a calf or calves."

However, the Makah Gray Whale Hunting season runs from April 1st to October 31st and does NOT correspond with the migrations?

According to graphs received from Gray Whale specialists, Herzing and Mate, the spring migration for the main section of the migrating Gray Whales runs from February 20th to April 20th. This section of the migrating whales is followed by the mothers and calves who complete their migration May 15th. How did the Makah kill an adult migrating Gray Whale on May 17th that was neither a mother or calf? There were only resident whales in the waters around the Makah Nation at the time of the May kill.

The Fall/Winter migration runs from December 1st through New Years. Therefore, how can the Makahs be hunting migrating gray whales in October, two months before the migration begins.

The Makah are obviously not adhering to their own management plan. If the Makah do two important things: 1.) Adhere to there own management plan and 2.) Choose to hunt a mile off shore, to ensure they were only hunting migrating whales, then "Buddy," "White Face" and the many other resident Gray Whales who call the Olympic Coast Marine Sanctuary and the Straits of Juan de Fuca home could be safe and continue to swim free.

Sources of information:
"Management Plan for Makah Treaty, Gray Whale Hunting for the Years, 1998-2002, Makah Whaling Commission III. Harvest Quotas/Strike Limits.

"The Makah Indian Tribe and Whaling:
A Fact Sheet Issued by the Makah Whaling Commission" Makah Whaling Plans: 1999 by Alx Dark and the respective authors and artists of the documents at this site. Sponsored by the Center for Conservation Biology at Rice University.

- The Darling Report -

TO: Editor, Victoria Times Colonist
FAX: 250-380-5255

FROM: Jim Darling
West Coast Whale-Tofino
PO Box 384, Tofino, B.C. VOR 2ZO
Tel: 250-725-4426, 604-734-2948

SUBJECT: Gray Whale Hunt

June 25, 1999

Dear Editor,

The primary biological issue surrounding the Makah whale hunt is whether the 20-33 whales allocated to be killed or injured over a five year period are to be taken from the small summer resident population(s) of 35-200 whales, or randomly from the eastern Pacific herd of 25,000 animals as was presumably intended by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and described to the public.

Since the 1970s I have studied the population of 35-50 gray whales that reside along the south-central west coast of Vancouver Island each summer. These whales leave the northern migration from Mexico to the Arctic seas in spring, stay in the region for 8-9 months feeding, then join the winter migration southward. This population consists of both sexes, and both adult and very young animals. Many of the same individuals return each summer; that is, this area is a home summer range to a specific group of whales. Some adults have returned each year for at least 25 years.

The Vancouver Island situation appears typical of summer resident gray whales found from Northern California through S.E. Alaska. We do not know the total numbers throughout this region, but rough estimates range up to 200, including the 35-50 off Vancouver Island. We also do not know whether these whales travel and mix randomly throughout the entire region, or if there is a series of sub-populations that tend to home in on specific sections of coast. This is the reason for the wide population estimate: there may be as many as 200 or as few as 35 whales that range through the hunt zone between migrations.

The U.S. Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared prior to the US government advocacy of Makah whaling to the IWC did not address these summer resident populations. In fact, most IWC delegates voted to support the hunt without knowledge or consideration of these populations. Much later, the U.S. government acknowledged the existence of these resident whales. It was only then the U.S. government and Makah Whaling Council responded by stating that they would only hunt migrants, thereby solving the problem.

However, to date the scheduled hunts have not coincided with the migrations. Although numerous scientific studies clearly show that the southern winter migration passes the Vancouver Island-Washington coast after early December (with the peak around Christmas or New Years), the U.S. government opened the hunt on October 1st last year. Any whales taken before December would very likely have been summer residents.

The spring, northward migration comes in two waves. By far the majority of whales pass from late February to the end of April with the peak from mid-March to mid-April. A second, smaller wave passes through May and early June and consists almost entirely of cows with newborn calves. Summer resident whales are present in the region by early April. Yet the whale was killed in mid-May.

If migrants are to be targeted, the timing for the hunt is obvious: mid-December to mid-January; late February to end of April. Equally obvious is the fact that to date the hunt has not occurred anywhere near peak migration times. It's a little like declaring you want to catch someone in the morning rush hour but not trying until 11 AM.

In sum, the odds are very high that any whales hunted between May and December will be summer residents - whales that behave differently than the rest of the herd, and reside along our coast. Hunting the residents will not threaten the entire gray whale herd, but it may well threaten the resident population.

Next season will determine the credibility of the hunt managers. The issue should be re-opened at the International Whaling Commission with full information available to all delegates. Clearly, killing or injuring ("landed or struck") 20-33 whales out of a population of less than 200 is different than taking them out of a herd of more than 25,000.

It is indeed unfortunate that Canada is not a member of the IWC - and refuses to join even after repeated requests from that organization to do so. The population at risk straddles the US/Canada border. It is, among other things, the "resource" for a significant whale watching industry, bringing millions upon millions of dollars into small B.C. communities. The IWC is the forum in which Canadian interests can be represented.


Jim Darling, Ph.D.
West Coast Whale Research Foundation