Many native tribes once used whaling as a traditional way to support themselves. Over the years, the lack of stable populations has forced government regulations that prevent these old customs from being practiced. Still, once a particular population reaches a level whereby they are no longer considered endangered, is it more important to protect the continued growth of that whale population or to restore the hunting rights of the tribes who wish to maintain their old ways of life?
Several tribes have voluntarily abandoned the old practices in favor of helping the whales, but not all of them. Recently the grey whales of the Pacific Coast have come into the spotlight as a tribe based out of Washington state, the Makah, wishes to return to harvesting them. The numbers that were proposed as acceptable to hunt are actually quite small, only numbering 20 over the course of five years. Still, NOAA has concluded that there may be an exception that prevents the whales from being viable targets of a harvest.
The whales in question show a distinct genetic make-up which may make the Northwest population in question a rare breed of grey whale. New laws are being looked into that will separate this group and give them their own protection status. This doesn’t sit well with the Makah, who have been waiting years for the okay to return to their harvest and are now being told that studies of the populations shall have to start from scratch.
This all brings to light an important question regarding traditional practices as they exist in modern times. Is it really possible to continue these traditions when the face of the world is changing so much? Human beings have already done so much damage to the Earth and the creatures which live here, how can we think that any cultural element, even one that once played a very important part to a group of people, is vital enough to go against what we know must be done?
Once again, it is humans versus whales, though the justification for killing these creatures is different. The Makah may not be killing the large amounts that butchers such as the Japanese or Icelandic whaling fleets do, but they still exercise a practice that threatens conservation efforts. Is there simply a point where human beings need to discard old ways for the betterment of life on our planet?