Cetaceans – Whales and Dolphins
Gray Whales in Washington State
Eastern North Pacific Gray whales are under increasing pressure as their marine habitat changes due to global warming and human activities. On July 14, 2010, Green Vegans petitioned the state of Washington Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to list as endangered approximately 200 (at the time) gray whales of the Pacific Coast Feeding Group. They had some unique aspects of their genetics compared to the larger Eastern North Pacific gray whales. Thirteen national and regional organizations signed on endorsing our petition. However, WDFW responded with a denial.
WDFW released their Periodic Status Review in 2020 and concluded that gray whales are remain “a state sensitive species”. On their website, gray whales are called a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. In the draft status review they noted, “This stock has recovered from the impacts of whaling, and was estimated at about 26,960 whales in 2016, when it was believed to exist at or near carrying capacity. However, the most recent estimate (made during the winter of 2019-2020) placed the population’s size at 20,580 animals, revealing a substantial decline of 23.7% since 2016.”
The 232 members (2022) of the “Pacific Coast Feeding Group” are genetically distinct but unless the Federal Government lists them as a “distinct population segment” (DPS) under the Endangered Species Act, the state will not act to upgrade protections and status. Much of that is a political decision because the Makah Nation has long wanted to resume killing them under treaty rights. If declared a DPS, then the Makah would face the likelihood of not being able to kill them as they are in the same area as proposed kills.
Lolita, the loneliest Orca whale
Tokitae (Lolita is her “stage name”) is a captive orca whale (taxonomically she is a dolphin) held at Miami Seaquarium (MSQ) in the smallest pool of its kind in the U.S. She has been there for the for 52 years. Tokitae, now 56, was captured from the wild in Washington State. Green Vegans board members have a history advocating for her release but other organizations are specialized advocates working to get Lolita out of her watery prison.
She remains in Miami swimming in circles. MSQ has a new owner, the Dolphin Company that has stated Tokitae won’t be required to perform anymore. That’s little comfort given she is still trapped in a terribly small tank. Her sub-pod, L25, is still around so advocates are not giving up. See also Orca Network for ongoing updates.
Makah Whaling – Background
On February 14, 2005, the Makah Tribe’s requested a limited waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) take moratorium. The waiver, regulations, and permit would allow the Tribe to resume killing gray whales. Two have been harpooned and shot, one illegally since they addressed the IWC with their request.
The Tribe made this particular request after the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision in Anderson v. Evans found that the Tribe must comply with the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Since then, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was terminated in 2008 because new evidence came to light about a 200 (Washington/Southern Vancouver Island (WA/SVI) sub-population of gray whales and the discovery that highly endangered Western Pacific gray whales mix with the more populous Eastern North Pacific Gray Whales the Makah want to kill, and could be unavoidably harpooned by the Makah.
In March 2015 a new DEIS was released for public comment. Green Vegans comments were submitted but the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Fast-forward through further administrative hearings and a supplemental impact statement, an administrative law judge posted the court’s recommended action in September, 2021. He approved the waiver request with added stipulations. “NMFS also proposes overall strike limits of three strikes during even-year hunts and two strikes during odd-year hunts, and a limit of 16 strikes on PCFG whales over 10 years. Further the Makah Tribe would be permitted to land up to three whales in even year hunts and one whale in odd-year hunts.”
There are additional administrative requirements, but the judge’s decision brings the Makah considerably closer to kill gray whales when they choose.
International Whaling Commission, IWC – Panama City, Panama 2017
Three experienced Green Vegans representatives have lobbied for whales at a number of International Whaling Commission meetings in the past. We last attended the 64th Annual meeting. The IWC, consisting of 88 nations (the number varies every year), meets in even-numbered years at different locations around the world. Given the scope and expense of participating, we have suspended this campaign. We work at a distance and continue to confer with other organizations. Green Vegans was the only vegan organization present in 2017.
The biennial IWC meeting is a high-level, government-to-government convention that saves—or kills—whales depending upon which nations prevail voting. When we attend, Green Vegans has access to lobby the delegations from other nations. It feels impossible that the world has not yet entirely committed to saving Earth’s whales and dolphins from slaughter after decades of focused opposition by organizations around the world. Progress at the IWC is never easy.