Report Finds That Whale Hunters Didn't Know Harvest Was Illegal

Aug 22, 2018

The gray whale killed in the Kuskokwim River is harvested, and the meat and blubber distributed on July 29, 2017.
Credit Katie Basile/KYUK

A federal report concluded that the hunters who killed a gray whale on the Kuskokwim last summer didn’t know they were doing something illegal.

The federal investigative report was released to The Associated Press last week. It found that hunters from Bethel, Oscarville, and Napaskiak thought that they were shooting at a beluga whale, at first. When they got a closer look at it, they thought it could have been a bowhead. Federal law allows Y-K Delta residents to subsistence hunt belugas, but bowheads can only be legally hunted by 11 villages in the North Slope. The whale killed by hunters on the Kuskokwim was a gray whale, which no one is allowed to hunt.

Last summer’s gray whale harvest provided 20,000 pounds of meat and blubber to the Y-K Delta’s surrounding villages. It also launched a federal investigation, though federal officials declined to prosecute the hunters. Instead, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sent letters to tribal leaders in Bethel, Napaskiak, and Oscarville last June. They detailed the federal laws that regulate subsistence whaling, and warned them against doing it again.