Five Mahak plead not guilty in whale shooting

Tacoma, Washington (AP) 10-07

Five Makah tribesmen have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges in the killing of a protected gray whale that was shot during an unsanctioned hunt during September.

The five members of the Makah tribe made their initial appearances in U.S. District Court during October, shortly after a federal grand jury indicted them on charges of conspiracy, unlawful taking of a marine mammal and unauthorized whaling, each punishable by a maximum year in jail and $100,000 (euro70,000) fine. The indictment alleges Frankie Gonzales, Wayne Johnson, Theron Parker, Andy Noel and William Secor took two motorboats into the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the tribe’s reservation at the tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula on the morning of Sept. 8 and harpooned the California gray whale.

They then shot it at least 16 times with at least one of the three high-powered rifles they had obtained from the tribe, the indictment said. The men did not have the tribe’s permission for the hunt, nor did they have a federal permit to kill the whale, which eventually sank in the strait.

The men remained out of custody pending trial, set for Nov. 27.

The Makah, who have been whalers for centuries, have sought to resume the hunts as part of their cultural heritage. But their treaty rights to hunt whales have been tangled in the courts for several years. The rogue hunt could delay their application for a lawful permit to hunt whales.

The federal government removed the gray whale from the endangered species list in 1994. The Makah killed their last whale in 1999.

Johnson helped lead that lawful hunt. Outside the courthouse, he told reporters the charges are “part of the hoops we have to jump through.”