Grey Whale Shot With a .50

Apparently some Makah tribes people are in jail for killing a gray whale with a .50 caliber rifle. Earlier reports are that it was a machine gun, but that turned out to be untrue:

The Makah Tribal Council was meeting behind closed doors at the tribal headquarters in Neah Bay, on the remote northwestern tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, The Peninsula Daily News reported.

Gorman, the Fisheries Services spokesman, said the tribe did not authorize the hunt.

“It came as much of a surprise to the Makah Whaling Commission as it was to anyone else,” he said.

“Plenty of witnesses” saw what happened, Gorman said. Now it will be up to federal officials to decide whether and what charges to bring and whether they are civil or criminal, he said.

The whale was shot with a .50-caliber rifle, he said. Early news reports describing it as a machine gun were incorrect, Gorman said.

The Daily News also reported witnesses saying the whale was harpooned about 9:30 a.m. Saturday off the Seal and Sail rocks, two miles east of Neah Bay.

There are a lot of different types of 50 caliber rifles, and this report isn’t too specific. Shooting an animal as large as a whale with any small arm is highly unethical. I support the right of native tribes to hunt whales in the context of sound wildlife management practices, but I do hope this does turn out to be rouge tribe members, rather than standard practice. I’m happy it appears to be the former.

UPDATE: Alcibiades might have found something that highlights my ignorance on the topic:

Historically, a mussel shell tip was used, in conjunction with barbs from elk horns. In recent times, a steel “yankee style” head is used, but the yew wood shaft is still employed, due to its superior flexibility, water resistance, and strength. Held fast to the whale, the harpoon shaft comes loose, to be recovered later, and a line is thrown from the canoe with seal skin floats attached, to provide sufficient drag to weaken the whale. In the past, a series of smaller lances were used to repeatedly strike the whale, gradually weakening and killing it, often over a period of hours. Recently, this technique has been replaced with the use of a .50 caliber rifle (as mandated by the International Whaling Commission) which is used following the harpoon strike to ensure a more efficient kill. Once the whale has been killed, a crew member called the “diver” jumps into the water, and cuts a hole through the bottom and top of the whale’s jaw, to which a tow line and float are attached. This holds the whale’s mouth shut and prevents the carcass from filling with water and sinking.

Emphasis mine. It would seem to me that even a .50 caliber shot, even if it’s from a 50BMG, wouldn’t quite be enough to ensure a more efficient kill on an animal this size.

UPDATE: Kudos to Alcibiades for doing the research so I don’t have to:

The Tribe was interested in substituting the traditional killing lance for a large calbier rifle both to eliminate a prolonged pursuit and because the use of the killing lance would be considered inhumane by modern standards. The Tribe contracted a veterinarian with a background in ballistics and together investigated the performance of several high caliber firearms including the Winchester.458 Magnum, the Weatherby .460 Magnum, the .50BMG, and the .577 A-Square Tyrannosaur. The Tribe found that all of these weapons to be adequate, but the .50BMG and .577 A-Square Tyrannosaur to be the most potent combination. The .577 A-Square Tyrannosaur was selected for the 1999 hunt since it was a substantially lighter rifle (14 pounds versus 20 pounds for a .50BMG) and because it had a 3-round capacity (one cartridge in the chamber, two cartridges in the magazine) compared to the single-shot .50BMG caliber configurations which were tested.

Well, I guess that’s one sporting use of the .50BMG, but I can’t say I am convinced the rifle is powerful enough to take down such large prey humanely.  Even three bursts from the mighty .577 Tyrannosaur I wouldn’t bet on, except in the hands of a very expert marksman.

12 Responses to “Grey Whale Shot With a .50”

  1. ravenshrike says:

    Are the members of the Makeh tribe composed entirely of makeup then?

  2. Kevin Baker says:

    Well, now the anti’s finally have a crime committed with a .50 to point to. Unless it was a blackpowder .50 muzzleloader, but I doubt that.

    (And, grammar Nazi that I am, it’s “rogue.” I’m sure it’s just a typo!)

  3. Alcibiades says:

    According to the Makah Wikipedia entry, they do hunt whales as part of historic tradition and .50 caliber rifles are used in accordance with the International Whaling Commission.

    I’d guess the .50 was a tribal owned weapon, though the hunt itself was illegal. I guess they shoot for the brain.

    (And the anti’s say .50s can’t be used for hunting…)

  4. Sebastian says:

    That’s an interesting find. Time to do an update.

  5. Alcibiades says:

    Some more searching, and they apparently used a .577 Tyrannosaurus in a 1999 hunt. Maybe it is the same gun or maybe not.

    Search Google for “International Whaling Commission caliber” (not quotation marks) and there should be a PDF file as the first response. It details a few of the calibers examined.

  6. Michael says:

    I found out about the tribe hunting whales, while research eco-terrorist James Watson. He likes to ram whale hunters with his ship and throw acid on the deck. He has attacked this tribe before, which may be another reason for the rifles. For protection against nuts like Watson and the Shepard’s of the Sea Society.

    The use of a .50BMG to take down any size whale is amazing thought. Granted it can penatrate 2 to 3 inch of steel plate, but several inches of blubber is amazing.

  7. rouge Indians? Are those like the ones in 1950s Hollywood movies, with a lttle makeup on to make them look Indian? Oh, you mean rogue Indians!

  8. Sebastian says:

    That explains why the spell checker didn’t catch it :)

  9. Rabbit says:

    What would be the best caliber for anti-whaling activists who interfere with hunts in international waters?

    I haven’t been able to Google that anywhere.


  10. jed says:

    Kevin> Well, now the anti’s finally have a crime committed with a .50 to point to

    Actually, that’d be “another”. The two that come immediately to mind are both Colorado incidents. Sadly, the VPC touts them both. Albert Petrosky and Martin Heemeyer. There are reports of criminals in possession — whether you want to count those among crimes commited “with” the rifle, I don’t know. I suppose there’s some room for argument, depending upon whether these criminals were convicted felons at the time, etc., and how you feel about such laws.

    Of course, on a statistical basis, these few incidents are insignificant.

  11. Alcibiades McZombie says:

    Scrounged from a gun forum:
    Article says it was a .460. (Search for it in the text.)

    Google results return more for “Makah .460” now.

    (I hope it doesn’t change again to a different caliber.)


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