A group of villagers in the Solomon Islands in Oceana captured and killed over 1,000 dolphins this week in the worst dolphin massacre in the region in recent years.
Photo by John Norton
The killings occurred in two spates — the first on Monday, when 700 dolphins including about 240 calves were killed, and the second yesterday that led to the death of 300 more dolphins.
The initial slaughter triggered off a spate of news reports in Australian and New Zealand media that said that the slaughter was in protest against International Marine Mammal Project’s (IMMP) failure to pay up funds promised to the villagers to help support sustainable development without dolphin kills.
The reports relied on allegations made by Fanalei Association chairman Atkin Fakaia who claims that IMMP hadn’t paid up the full amount it had promised and that the villagers had on option but to resume killing in order to survive.
IMMP rubbishes this allegation.
It says the dolphins were killed by a break-away band of villagers from South Malaita’s Fanalei village. The rest of the people of the three villages — Fanalei, Walende, and Bitamae — that the project had reached agreement with back in 2010 were not involved in the killings, it said in a statement. (Full disclosure: IMMP is a project of Earth Island Institute, which is also the publisher of Earth Island Journal.)
“The sudden decision to kill dolphins lies with a disparate group from one community, Fanalei, who broke from the consensus we have built around ending the dolphin killing,” the statement said. “Many in this very community we helped are furious over these renegades.”
Fanalei chief Willson Filei, who had helped strike the deal with IMMP, condemned the killings. “The Honiara based committee was only formed when they learn that money was actually coming in. They refused and discourage us at the first place,” he told the local daily Solomon Star. “But when money came in they tried to push their way in. They then messed up the whole project and encourage villagers to return to hunt. I wash my hands from this recent string of slaughter.”
Killing dolphins for their meat and teeth, which is also used as currency on some of these islands, has been a traditional practice in these islands. But in recent years villagers have also been capturing dolphins to sell to international traders who supply the mammals to dolphinariums across the world.
IMMP, which has been fighting for decades to end marine mammal slaughter and stop captive whale and dolphin trade, brokered an agreement with the three villages in 2010. “The agreement effectively stopped the killing of dolphins more than 2,000 dolphins a year by these three villages,” said IMMP associate director Mark Berman. The resumption of killings is a sad setback to the project’s conservation efforts.
“It is tragic that the renegade group has broken this consensus and started killing dolphins again,” Berman said. IMMP has been providing these villages with funding for infrastructure rebuilding, paying schools fees for children, and helping villagers develop alternative employment opportunities.
The project’s regional director Lawrence Makili, who’s based in Honiera, blamed the Fanelei-Honiara association for allegedly misusing the money the project given to them in 2011. IMMP intends to continue with efforts to support sustainability projects for the village tribes. “We asked the communities to apply to us for projects like lighting, sanitation and education. We will go through their project proposals before funding is made available,” Makili said.
Many villagers support this move. Willie Fa’asu, former chief of Walende said this was a better option than handing out money directly since the cash hadn’t been distributed fairly by the local committee in the past. “This is the only way our people will not fight over the dolphin issue,” he told Solomon Star.
IMMP says there are reasons to believe there is corruption at work, and the dolphin captivity forces are behind this tragic resumption of the dolphin kill. The mass slaughter would make live dolphin trade seem like a more benign option. Traders, who can make as much as $150,000 per captive dolphin sold to dolphinariums in China, the Middle East, or the Caribbean, can claim they are “saving” dolphins by capturing them instead of letting them be killed.