900 dolphins are dead in the Solomon Islands in Oceania in the Pacific Ocean due to an apparent dispute between villagers and the Earth Island Institute, a Berkeley-based conservation group. Residents of Solomon Island say that Earth Island failed to pay up to $400,000 to the village of Fanalei for agreeing to stop the traditional dolphin hunt. But Earth Island claims that a “renegade group” killed the dolphins, as “sabotage” against the group’s work.
The Solomon Islands have been a supplier of live dolphins sold to aquariums in China and Dubai; a single dolphin can fetch up to $150,000.
For the past two years, Earth Island Institute has been working with the island of Malaita (the largest island of the Solomon Islands’ Malaita province) to try to stop the hunt. The dolphins are hunted by being driven together with boats; fishermen use stones to make sounds that scare and disorient the animals who are then herded into a bay or beach. In Malaita, meat from dolphins is then distributed among households and the dolphin’s teeth used for jewelry or as currency on the island.
The islanders have aired their concerns about Earth Island Institute on Radio Australia, says the Guardian. Residents of Fanalei say that the conservation group had only paid a third of the promised funds. As a result, “disillusioned” villagers have returned to hunting. Atkin Fakaia, a community leader, says flat-out that “Earth Island had been reluctant to pay the agreed amount that was due to the community.”
For its part, Earth Island claims that the issue is more complex. David Phillips, who oversees international dolphin protection efforts for the group, alleges that a “renegade group” based in the capital of Honiara has “grabbed funds that were supposed to go to the community” and not distributed them. The funds were supposed to be paid as small grants for community and “income generating projects” specifically in the village of Fanalei.
While Philips said his group is working with the villagers to resolve the matter, the Guardian notes that the dispute is more likely to end up in court. It will not be the first time that a legal fight has been raised over dolphins from Solomon Island. Since 2005, the export of dolphins from the islands has been banned but this regulation was lifted after an October 2007 court decision. In that year, 28 dolphins were sent to a dolphinarium in Dubai; three more had been found dead near holding pens.
After this, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) undertook a thorough review of the commercial dolphin trade. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Cetacean Specialist Group has said that there is insufficient information about whether the Solomon Islands has enough dolphin to sustain an export quota of about 100 animals per year.
The killing of nearly a thousand dolphins in the Solomon Islands sadly shows how much “misunderstanding” exists between the local residents and well-meaning environmentalists from the West. Sadly, this has led to “one of the worst cases of dolphin slaughter in the Solomon Islands for some time, and delivered a huge setback to conservation efforts in a world ‘hot spot’ for the dolphin trade,” says the Guardian. The fight to save the world’s endangered species requires not only cooperation, but whole-hearted efforts to understand and respect the situation of local communities.
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