Thar She Blows!

I have been going through my father’s household possessions since he is moving to assisted living and there is not room for everything. He has been very good about this process, giving me free rein to pick and choose what stays, what is given to friends and what goes to charity.  and what goes to me (Mostly tools, including his hand-made wooden toolbox I remember from very early in my life), and what gets thrown away. I have had the help of friends and family in this task, and while it is tedious work, I have enjoyed seeing things I remember or that I have never seen before. But more on that later.

I was looking for information from the IRS on the limits to charitable deductions. I had heard that the taxpayer could take up to $1000 in deductions for gifts to qualifying institutions, after which the items had to be appraised to receive credit. I did not want to have 60-year-old everyday dinnerware appraised, so I was looking for the 411 on the issue.

I never got that far. Instead I ran into this:
Expenses of Whaling Captains

You may be able to deduct as a charitable contribution the reasonable and necessary whaling expenses paid during the year in carrying out sanctioned whaling activities. The deduction is limited to $10,000 a year. To claim the deduction, you must be recognized by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission as a whaling captain charged with the responsibility of maintaining and carrying out sanctioned whaling activities.

Sanctioned whaling activities are subsistence bowhead whale hunting activities conducted under the management plan of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

Whaling expenses include expenses for:

  Acquiring and maintaining whaling boats, weapons, and gear used in sanctioned whaling activities,

  Supplying food for the crew and other provisions for carrying out these activities, and

  Storing and distributing the catch from these activities.

I had never pictured Captain Ahab from Moby Dick being particularly charitable, especially toward a certain white whale, and quickly realized that this provision did not apply to the Nantucket Whaler’s Association, if there was such a thing in the 1840’s or ever. It applied to certain Native Alaskan whalers, who are among the few American whalers remaining.

A major cultural base of the Makeh tribe in Alaska revolves around the whale and the associated hunt. The Makah signed a treaty in 1855 known as the Treaty of Neah Bay with the United States government that ceded over half of their ancestral lands to ensure their right to continue hunting whales. However, by the 1920s the dangerously low populations of whales caused the Makah to cease hunting whales to ensure the whale’s survival. Once whale populations showed stability again in the 1980s, the Makah decided to pursue whaling again, against widespread protests from environmental groups. The United States government’s Defense of Marine Mammals Act barred the Makah from whaling, resulting in outrage from the Makah due to their right to whaling being guaranteed by their treaty. In 1999, the United States government allowed the Makah to take 5 whales a year for their ancestral hunt. That year, the Makah were allowed to partake in their first whaling hunt since the 1920s, however in 2001, the United States government once again overturned their previous ruling and declared it illegal for the Makah to hunt whales. This is an ongoing issue: the Makah, the United States government, and the environmental groups are still fighting legal battles.

Whaling in the U.S. is carried out by nine different indigenous Alaskan communities,with the program is managed by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission which reports to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The hunt takes around 50 bowhead whales a year from a population of about 10,500 in Alaskan waters. Conservationists fear this hunt is not sustainable, though the IWC Scientific Committee, the same group that provided the above population estimate, projects a population growth of 3.2% per year. The hunt also took an average of one or two gray whales each year until 1996. The quota was reduced to zero in that year due to sustainability concerns. A future review may result in the gray whale hunt being resumed.
So most of us can just take off our sou’esters unless we plan to be the Gorton fisherman for Halloween.  Whaling is not for everyone, and maybe that’s a good thing. such beautiful, intelligent creatures deserve our respect and admiration and don’t need to be chased around by men wielding harpoons. I’m just sayin’.


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