Five American Indian tribesmen have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges in the killing of a protected gray whale that was shot during an unsanctioned hunt last month.
The five members of the Makah tribe made their initial appearances in US District Court on Friday, a week after a federal grand jury indicted them on charges of conspiracy, unlawful taking of a marine mammal and unauthorized whaling, each punishable by a maximum year in jail and $100,000 fine.
The indictment alleges Frankie Gonzales, Wayne Johnson, Theron Parker, Andy Noel and William Secor took two motorboats into the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the tribe's reservation at the tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula on the morning of September 8 and harpooned the California gray whale.
They then shot it at least 16 times with at least one of the three high-powered rifles they had obtained from the tribe, the indictment said. The men did not have the tribe's permission for the hunt, nor did they have a federal permit to kill the whale, which eventually sank in the strait.