The case study at hand presents an environmental issue involving the Makah tribe that had hunted whales over two thousand years until the 1920s when this practice had to be discontinued due to the decline of the gray whale population (Coté 13). At present, the tribe wants to resume its practices, claiming that the inability to hunt whales negatively impacts young men’s sense of discipline. Researching deeper into the case, it was discovered that this intention faced protests on behalf of numerous animal protection groups including the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (Stevens 111). Both organizations believe that the tribe kills animals for commercial purposes as the whale meat is not vital for their survival, which the Makah tribe denies (Bunting 12).
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Thus, the moral issues involved in the case are:
- whether it is legal to forbid the tribe to hunt whales provided that hunting takes fewer than five whales permitted by law to kill (Khoury 301);
- if the tribe’s food provision and the discipline of young hunters indeed depend on whale hunting;
- whether cultural traditions provide sufficient ground for killing animals.
The parties involved include:
- the members of a Native American tribe that were involved in whale hunting for more than two thousand years, which makes them claim that this tradition has become indispensable to their culture (Brigham 245);
- whales that cannot protect their rights for survival;
- animal protection organizations that disapprove of hunting even for cultural purposes since overhunting results in a sharp decline of the whale population;
- the government of the United States that has placed these animals on the list of endangered species, thereby halting hunting activities (Tweedie 24).
If we analyze the situation in terms of its utility, it becomes evident that no one benefits from hunting except the Makah tribe. Although it is quite profitable to sell whale fat, it may result in the total extinction of these creatures, which the government should prevent by all means. Moreover, even within the tribe itself, there are people who realize that killing whales is unreasonable since people managed to survive throughout the 20th century without whale meat. They believe that pride and discipline can be instilled by other activities, which is quite true.
As far as duties are concerned, each stakeholder (except whales) is directed by the necessity to perform only those duties that are directly related to them. The members of the tribe are trying to preserve their unique heritage, the animal protection groups are struggling for the survival of the species, and the government is interested in preventing conflicts between the two parties. The problem can be resolved when the stakeholders realize that their major collective duty is to protect animals from extinction, assisting each other in this task.
Finally, from the rights perspective, animal interests in all spheres are currently protected by the Animal Welfare Act (1966). This implies that the government has legal grounds to forbid hunting. Yet, there are also cultural heritage laws supporting various cultural practices (Khoury 310). Since the government has to deal with the millennium-long tradition, it cannot discard the interests of the tribe.
Thus, assessing the morality of the case may become challenging if one takes into consideration the importance of preserving cultures of indigenous tribes (especially taking into account that they were historically deprived of their territory). However, I believe that if the tribe is not starving at present (being able to hunt for other animals), killing whales exclusively for traditional purposes is inhumane and cannot be justified. While the lives of people are not at stake in the situation, the survival of whales that are unable to protect themselves – is.
Brigham, Matthew P. “Chrono-Controversy: The Makah’s Campaign to Resume the Whale Hunt.” Western Journal of Communication, vol. 81, no. 2, 2017, pp. 243-261.
Bunting, Kenzie. “The Importance of Whaling in Makah Culture: Self Determination and Cultural Continuity.” Spaces Between: An Undergraduate Feminist Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, 2014, pp. 1-18.
Coté, Charlotte. Spirits of Our Whaling Ancestors: Revitalizing Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth Traditions. University of Washington Press, 2017.
Khoury, Monder. “Whaling in Circles: The Makahs, the International Whaling Commission, and Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling.” Hastings LJ, vol. 67, no. 2, 2015, pp. 293-311.
Stevens, Jeremy. “Of Whaling, Judicial Fiats, Treaties and Indians: The Makah Saga Continues.” American Indian Law Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, 2017, pp. 99-126.
Tweedie, Ann M. Drawing Back Culture: The Makah Struggle for Repatriation. University of Washington Press, 2015.