Photo: bbum

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A gray whale was harpooned off the coast of Washington state this weekend in a surprise hunt by members of the Makah tribe. The tribe does have hard-won treaty rights to conduct whale hunts, but this weekend’s kill was not sanctioned since the tribe has not yet succeeded in obtaining a necessary waiver to the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Tribal leaders also apparently were unaware of the hunters’ plans and the tribal council had not authorized the hunt. The Makah’s last legal whale hunt took place in 1999 shortly after gray whales were removed from Endangered Species Act protections. Whale advocates sued, resulting in a ruling that the tribe must be granted a waiver for landing whales, which hasn’t been granted yet. The five hunters could face fines of up to $20,000 each and possible criminal prosecution.

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