Small Cetacean Hunts in the Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands is a country comprising about one thousands islands, located in the Pacific Ocean to the east of Papua New Guinea. Dolphins and other small cetaceans have been traditionally hunted by some communities there, who prize the teeth as currency. (Bottlenose dolphin teeth, however, were not particularly sought by the islanders.)

In the early 2000s, Western interests visited the Islands and recognized the economic potential from using the hunts to capture live bottlenose dolphins for sale to aquariums. Fishermen were paid to capture live Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) and, over time, a capture industry developed - with exports of almost 100 animals over a six year period to Mexico (in 2003), United Arab Emirates (2007), the Philippines (2008 and 2009) and Malaysia (2010). Sales of live dolphins to other countries may have taken place, as well, with rumored exports to Thailand, Panama, Hong Kong, and most recently China publicized in Solomon Islands media.

While the principal Western dolphin broker reportedly quit the business in 2010, two other capture enterprises remain and dolphins continue to be captured.

The capture process in the Solomon Islands varies and to a large extent is opportunistic - sometimes nets are involved and sometimes dolphins are driven to shore through cooperation between fishermen. In all cases, dolphins suffer stress from the chase, capture, handling, confinement and transportation from point of capture, to temporary pens, and ultimately to facilities thousands of miles away.

The transportation of wild animals across oceans causes immense stress, and death is not an unusual fate for the dolphins even prior to the stress of life-long captivity. From the 2003 sale to Mexico, one of the 28 dolphins died just days after arriving, and today less than half remain alive. Four of the 28 animals shipped in 2007 to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, are thought to have died, as they have been replaced with animals from the Taiji drive hunts.

Aside from the cruelty of the capture and confinement of dolphins, the sustainability of the Solomon Islands hunts, like those of Japan and the Faroe Islands, is of grave concern.

Only very limited population studies have been undertaken on cetaceans in the Solomon Islands region, and leading scientific experts agree that the sparse data available suggests that dolphin captures are grossly unsustainable. The Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission has expressed "its concern at ongoing and past levels of [the dolphin genus] Tursiops in the Solomon Islands, noting that permitted levels of catch for export are not supported by the scientific evidence." In April 2009, the trade was placed under Significant Review by the CITES Animals Committee - an extreme measure that is only imposed when trade is suspected to be unsustainable.

In September, newspaper reports stated that the government of the Solomon Islands plans to ban live dolphin captures and exports in 2012.