Five members of an American Indian tribe are accused of shooting a gray whale with a high-caliber rifle during a rogue hunt last month.
An indictment charged the five Makah tribe members with conspiracy, unlawful taking of a marine mammal and unauthorized whaling.
"The charges brought today are the most serious available to the government in this case," U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan said at a news conference.
The charges are all misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail and up to a $100,000 (70,876 EUR) fine.
On Sept. 9, the five members harpooned the California gray whale near the tribe's reservation, then shot it.
The killing was a public relations disaster for the tribe, which had been working with federal authorities to arrange a legal hunt. Makah officials rushed to Washington, D.C., to assure the government they did not approve.