Whaling sparks controversy, alleged death threats to those on both sides

Published: May. 10, 2017 at 6:39 PM AKDT
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Divided by passion — those with opposite views on whaling say they're both recipients of apparent death threats.

Family of 16-year-old Chris Apassingok from Gambell say he's been sent hundreds of hate messages from followers of a well known environmentalist after the teen killed a whale last month.

For many an afternoon spent slicing, pickling and sharing whale meat is not just about culture, it's also described as a gift.

"It's a very joyous time for our people, it's very sacred and people don't realize that," Yaari Walker, who supports Apassingok and whaling said.

While the harvest represents centuries of tradition and crucial survival skills, it's also controversial.

Channel 2 news interviewed Chris' mom, Susan Apassingok, who lives on St. Lawrence Island by phone Wednesday.

She says since news of her son's whale kill went viral — he's been attacked with hundreds of messages from what she describes as "followers" of Paul Watson, the founder, president, and executive director of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

The organization is a non-profit, marine wildlife conservation group founded in the 1970's.

"It saddens me. It breaks my heart. I feel sorry for the man himself because he doesn't know our way of life," Apassingok said.

Friends and family say Watson posted on Facebook about the kill and that sparked a flurry of various responses from others. "I have not read all the comments because they just make me cry," Apassingok said.

United States Senator Lisa Murkowski told KTUU she called the teen to say "thank you."

"For being a young man growing up in two different worlds I want to make sure that a 16-year-old who has access to Facebook, living in St. Lawrence Island, is able to continue to support his family, his community, and his culture by being able to continue the practice of whaling," Senator Murkowski said.

In a Facebook message earlier to Channel 2 News earlier this week Watson admits he posted about his anger of the kill to his personal page but did not encourage others to directly attack the Alaskan teen.

He said in part, "...Nor did I send a message to a single person urging people to harass this person or anyone else.My posting was my honest response to the killing of this whale and I equate the killing of a whale to the killing of a human being. It is murder."

Watson also says he doesn't care who does it or where it happens, he won't apologize for his passion to save whales.

Watson revealed he's had threatening messages sent to him connected to the whaling debate.

The International Whaling Commission's most recent information says bowhead whales have seen about a 3 percent population increase on average each year since 1978.

In 2001 the organization estimated 10,500 bowhead whales were in the Bering , Chukchi and Beaufort seas.