Diomede faces fine for hunting gray whale

Posted: Tuesday, July 09, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The village of Diomede on Little Diomede Island will be fined by the International Whaling Commission for hunting a gray whale, an Alaska whaling official said.

The gray whale was harpooned last month in a hunt in which one of the whalers died after the whale flipped the boat and the man hit his head.

The Bering Sea village, however, did not have a quota for gray whales, according to Maggie Ahmagoak, executive director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. She said any penalty is likely to be in the range of $100 to $1,000, because the whaling expedition was undertaken out of need.

''In this case the infraction would probably be at its lowest level because of their desperate need to feed their people,'' Ahmagoak said.

She said the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission will pay any fines.

The International Whaling Commission gives Alaska whalers a quota of the larger, more docile bowheads but none for gray whales, even though the eastern Pacific gray whale stock is considered stable, said Doug DeMaster, a scientific adviser to the commission's U.S. delegation.

Russian whalers are allowed 140 gray whales per year, four of which are given to the Makah tribe of Washington state.

However, poor hunting conditions this spring prevented Diomede whalers from getting either of two allotted bowheads, forcing them after a gray whale, said whaling captain Orville Ahkinga Jr.

Seven crews from the village set out June 25 in skiffs and around midnight they struck a small gray whale. Crewman Melton Ozenna, 41, died of injuries sustained during the hunt after the whale surfaced under the boat and tipped it.

The Diomede strike was the first attempted gray whale hunt in Alaska in at least five years, Ahmagoak said.

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