Makah harpoon grey whale in traditional hunt

Members of a West Coast Indian tribe returned to the ways of their ancestors Monday with the help of power boats and a high-calibre rifle. For the first time in 70 years, the Makah Indians legally hunted and killed a gray whale.

A crew from the tribe in a traditional cedar canoe closed in on a grey whale, and harpooned it. The wounded mammal towed the canoe through the choppy seas before a support crew in a motorized boat moved in and fired shots to complete the kill. The whale was then towed back to shore.

The hunt had been banned 70 years ago to protect the grey whale, then an endangered species. When the whale was removed from the endangered species list in 1994, the hunt was reinstated. But it has still been met with many protests.

The protesters insist the Makah are the only ones in favour of the hunt: "There were mothers and children watching this morning and no one is impressed. Nobody on Vancouver Island is impressed with what happened here today. And I hope to God we never see it again."

The Makah put their traditional hunt on hold for a day last week as the United States Coast Guard had trouble keeping protesters in boats far enough away from the small fishing vessel.

Since then the fleet of protest boats has dwindled. They had four of their vessels seized by the U.S. Coast Guard after they tried to disrupt the Makah's attempts to shoot a grey whale.

hile the Makah are happy with the whale they caught Monday, the hunt is still not over. The tribe has the right to kill up to five whales a year and the whales will continue to migrate close to the coast for several more weeks. Environmentalists say their protests will continue as well.

Meanwhile, the government of British Columbia says B.C. natives should not expect the same whaling rights as the Makah in Washington State. It says whaling will not be negotiated on any grounds.

However, whaling falls under federal jurisdiction. B.C. Premier Glen Clark says it would be "outrageous" if Ottawa were to allow whale hunting.