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Rural Alaska

Feds: No charges against Alaska hunters who killed protected gray whale

The whale killed in the Kuskokwim River on Thursday night is butchered and the meat and blubber distributed in Napaskiak on Saturday, July 29, 2017. People from up and down the river traveled to Napaskiak to help salvage and butcher the whale and collect blubber and meat. (Katie Basile / KYUK Public Media)

Villagers in southwest Alaska who killed a protected gray whale last year will not face federal prosecution, according to an official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In July last year, a gray whale took an unusual journey, swimming from the Bering Sea nearly 60 miles up the Kuskokwim River, almost reaching the city of Bethel.

Residents of Napaskiak and other nearby villages killed the whale using harpoons, high-powered rifles and shot guns, and hauled it to shore, where its meat was distributed among villagers.

Gray whales are protected under the Whaling Convention Act, and aren't allowed to be hunted by anyone in Alaska, Jennie Lyons, NOAA Fisheries spokesperson, wrote in an email.

NOAA opened an investigation into the killing of the whale in the days after the incident. Evidence was forwarded to the U.S. District Attorney's office in Alaska, Lyons wrote.

Lyons' said no charges would be filed in relation to the event.

Instead, "formal compliance assistance letters" were sent to some villages, Lyons said. She declined to provide the letters to reporters.

"These letters formally advised the villages of their responsibility to know and abide by the law and specified the limitations of subsistence whaling – detailing what is required to lawfully hunt and harvest whales," Lyon's statement said. "This outreach strengthened compliance relationships and information sharing between the villages and NOAA."

But on Friday, the AP reported that community leaders said they knew nothing about the letters.

Lyons said the letter was sent to three villages in early April. She declined to provide additional information.

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