Indigenous hunters in southwest Alaska initially believed they were legally taking a beluga whale when they unlawfully killed a protected gray whale with harpoons and guns after it strayed into the Kuskokwim River last year.
That’s according to a federal investigative report provided to The Associated Press through a public records request.
Federal officials didn’t prosecute the hunters for the unauthorized kill in July 2017. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration instead sent letters to officials in three communities advising native leaders about limits to subsistence whaling.
Federal officials at the time declined to name which communities received the letters, which also warned that future offenses would be dealt with more severely. The public records show the letters were sent to tribal leaders for Bethel, Napaskiak and Oscarville.