CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports that it was a stab at reviving an ancient tradition by a tiny tribe on the tip of Washington, after years fighting environmentalists and convincing the government that whaling is central to their culture.
In a break with tradition, hunters finished off the mighty creature with high-powered rifles. The hunt was so controversial in Washington that tribe members could watch it live on TV. "And that is why some people say it is a non-traditional hunt with technology today. Would our grandfathers have used it then? I'm sure they would," said a Makah man. A Makah woman commented: "And as the whale gave himself up, it was just, it was just awesome."
But what the Makah call traditional, angry opponents call and tragic. Anti-whaling groups tried to run interference, but last week the Coast Guard called this dangerous and negligent and confiscated four of their vessels.
The Makah stopped whaling this century after commercial hunters depleted the gray whale population. But with it now off the endangered species list, the Makah dusted off an old treaty guaranteeing them hunting rights, put hand carved traditional cedar canoes in the water and trained for this day.
"I'm really happy for our Makahs. I'm happy, happy to be a Makah," said a Makah woman who wiped away tears.
There are just a couple of things the hunters and the protesters agree on. That the whales are magnificent mammals and that Monday was a day for tears.
CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report