Stock morality

Whalers, activists, and the power of the state in the Makah whaling conflict

by LES BELDO

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The Makah Tribe of Washington State sparked controversy in the late 1990s when tribal leaders sought to revive their people's whaling traditions after a 70‐year hiatus. The ensuing political conflict has been shaped by the normative presuppositions of the US National Marine Fisheries Service. The conception of gray whales as countable, harvestable “stocks” enables Makah officials to claim affinities with the authorized discourse of the state. Antiwhaling activists have strategically adapted to this register, mobilizing scientific uncertainty to delay the hunt, but in doing so they tacitly affirm the idea that it is acceptable to kill whales. These findings call into question anthropological expectations regarding who benefits from the exercise of state power in environmental conflicts, showing that moral and ontological differences are not necessarily coterminous.

A sign used by Peninsula Citizens for the Protection of Whales, the ad hoc antiwhaling protest group founded by Margaret and Chuck Owens, in northwest Washington State. This photo was taken during one of the group's roadside protests near the Makah Reservation in 2002.
A sign used by Peninsula Citizens for the Protection of Whales, the ad hoc antiwhaling protest group founded by Margaret and Chuck Owens, in northwest Washington State. This photo was taken during one of the group's roadside protests near the Makah Reservation in 2002. (Margaret Owens)