On May 3rd, Judge Franklin D. Burgess of U.S.
District Court for the Western District of Washington
granted a temporary restraining order halting an impending
gray whale hunt by the Makah tribe. The temporary
restraining order was requested on Wednesday by The Fund
for Animals, The Humane Society of the United States, and
others, after learning that the Makah Tribal Council was
likely to issue a whaling permit as early as Thursday and
that whaling could begin immediately.
The groups' original lawsuit to stop the whale hunt was filed
in January. The temporary restraining order will last at least
ten days, and the court will hold a hearing on the plaintiffs'
pending motion for a preliminary injunction on May 15. If a
preliminary injunction were granted, it would extend the
injunction against whaling until the court has a chance to
issue a final ruling on the merits of the case.
In issuing the temporary restraining order, Judge Burgess
concluded, "A delay of a few weeks in order to accomplish
the review before the whaling proposal is implemented is
reasonable and necessary. Plaintiffs have made a sufficient
showing that serious questions are raised and that the
balance of hardship tips in their favor. There is a public
interest in determining that an EA adequately addresses all
of the ways the whale hunting proposal could adversely
affect the human environment . . ."
Despite a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that the previous
environmental study authorizing the whale hunt violated
federal law, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service
have actually expanded the hunt by now allowing hunting
within the Strait of Juan de Fuca and any time during the
year. As a result, it is much more likely that a "resident
whale" — a small, behaviorally distinct group of gray whales
— would be killed and that threats to human safety will be
The plaintiffs argue that the agencies have again violated
the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to
adequately study the ways in which the Makah whale hunt
could adversely affect the environment, especially because
the expanded hunt poses an even greater risk to the area's
summer resident gray whales and human safety. The
plaintiffs also argue that the agencies' authorization of the
whale hunt violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act,
which expressly prohibits whaling, while creating an
exemption for Alaskan tribes but not for the Makah.
"We are elated that the court has halted this hunt at the
eleventh hour and prevented irreparable harm, particularly to
the small population of resident whales," said Michael
Markarian, executive vice president of The Fund for Animals.
"Whaling may have been a tradition in the past, but there is
nothing traditional about cruelly shooting these majestic
creatures with high-powered rifles."
The plaintiffs are represented by the public interest law firm
Meyer & Glitzenstein. A copy of the four-page order issued
today is available by clicking here.
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