Makah Whale Hunt Puts Pressure on Prosecutor

By Drew Snider

PORT ANGELES, Washington, May 11, 1999 (ENS) - Clallam County Prosecutor Chris Shea is looking for federal help in dealing with a rush of legal headaches surrounding the Makah Indian Tribe's controversial gray whale hunt.


Gray whale (Eschrichtus robustus) (Photos courtesy Salitrales de San Ignacio Project)
Tribal whalers made a second attempt to kill a whale Tuesday off Mukkaw Bay, just south of Cape Flattery on Washington state's Pacific coast. They turned back after a couple of hours, when protesters' vessels closed in on their carved cedar canoe.

But while things were less than eventful on the water, they heated up in the courthouse in Port Angeles, where two protesters faced charges stemming from the opening of the whale hunt on Monday.

Shea spent the afternoon reviewing a video-tape shot from a helicopter by the U.S. Coast Guard, showing what he says was a very dangerous act involving protesters in a Zodiac inflatable craft and a Makah motorboat.

"At first it looked like they (the protesters) were trying to protect the whale, circling the (Makah) boat and coming around ten to fifteen feet of it," Shea says.

The video shows a plume of orange smoke coming from a cannister thrown from the Zodiac. "It's not clear what they were doing," says Shea. "They may have been trying to frighten the whale away."

Then the video shows someone in the protesters' boat throwing a lighted flare across the gunwale of the Makah boat, right between two of the natives on-board.

"If that flare landed in the boat, with all that gasoline present, it could have blown it up," Shea claims.

Joshua Harper, of Eugene, Oregon, and Jacob Conroy of Seattle, the only people in the Zodiac, were arrested at the scene. Shea says it will not matter which of them actually threw the flare, since Washington state has an "accomplice liability" statute.

The Sheriff's office recommended a felony charge of first-degree assault, but Shea decided to go with the gross misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment instead, filing it in Superior Court to preserve the option of bringing in the more serious charge.


Two gray whales, one at the surface and one just below. The gray whale makes the longest migration of any mammal, feeding all summer in the Arctic seas, breeding in warm lagoons of Baja California, Mexico, a 10,000 mile round trip.
After being booked, Harper and Conroy were released on an order to stay east of the Elwha River, between Port Angeles and the Makah Reservation, and have no contact with any Makah tribal members, until their arraignment on May 21.

But Shea is concerned the current and potential legal action has his office in over its head. "We really need help from the Feds," he says.

In November, two Makah Tribal Police officers were charged with assault in connection with another incident involving anti-whaling protesters at Neah Bay, Washington. That case has already been moved up to Federal Court, and with the possibility of more charges to come, any help from the federal government will be welcome.