Symbolic Whale Rescue Effort

Richard Walker
7/22/10

NEAH BAY, Wash. – The 18-foot rigid-hull inflatable approached the reported area. Two crew members leaned over the bow, watching and ready. The boat bobbed on the rolling sea on a cloudy May 13 morning.

“Coming back under, to the right; he’s on our right,” the skipper called out.

Then, exhale and spray, as the 35-foot juvenile humpback whale surfaced at the inflatable’s bow.

Marine mammal biologists from Cascadia Research and the Makah Indian Nation cut crab pot lines entangling the whale’s body and tail.

While the whale rescue effort may have seemed routine, it had a deeper significance. It’s just one part of the story of Makah’s relationship with ciciwad – it’s a spiritual relationship between two beings that share the same environment, a relationship that goes beyond hunting.

While Makah, host of the 2010 Intertribal Canoe Journey, has been the subject of protests over its desire to resume treaty-guaranteed whale hunts, it has long been at the forefront of environmental and marine mammal protection.

In response to three ship-related oil spills in its traditional waters – in 1972, 1988 and 1991, totaling 3.1 million gallons – the Makah Tribal Council contributed $450,000 in funding to station a rescue tug at Neah Bay, which is where the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca meet.

In 2003, Makah was appointed to the Puget Sound Harbor Safety Committee. In 2007, the state Department of Ecology designated Neah Bay as a staging area for oil spill responses.

In 2008, the Makah Tribal Council created the Makah Office of Marine Affairs. In 2008, Makah was appointed to the Region 10 Regional Response Team and the Northwest Area Committee, which coordinates federal, tribal, state, local and international responses to oil and hazardous substance incidents in the Pacific Northwest Region.

And the Makah Tribal Council will participate in an upcoming meeting of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force in Washington, D.C.

Within a week after the whale was freed from the crab pot gear, Makah’s Office of Marine Affairs and the Coast Guard closely monitored the efforts of a tugboat crew as it worked to regain control of a barge that was lost in tow. The barge was carrying about 700,000 pounds of construction material and 400 gallons of diesel fuel.

The tugboat Miki Hana temporarily lost control of the barge when the towing cable parted during heavy seas. The crew was able to recover the barge and re-establish the tow several hours later. A second towing vessel assisted. Makah, the Coast Guard, and four other federal and state agencies collaborated and were on standby in the event that further assistance was needed.

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