More than 1,000 dolphins have been slaughtered in the Solomon Islands in the past few weeks because of a dispute between villagers and an American conservation group which had been paying them compensation to abandon their annual cull.
The killing, described by The Guardian as “one of the worst cases of dolphin slaughter in the Solomon Islands for some time”, has appalled conservationists and threatens to undermine the fledgling tourism industry of the South Pacific island state.
Locals on the island of Malaita say they have resumed their annual cull of the marine mammals after the US-based Earth Island Institute failed to pay them the compensation it had promised. The deal is said to be worth SI$2.4m (around $316,000) over two years and the villagers claim they have only been paid $95,000 of that.
However, the Earth Island Institute says it did pay the money owed. However, it went to representatives of the village based in the country’s capital Honiara, who failed to pass it on, says the charity.
Radio Australia reports that the villagers are pledging to continue to slaughter dolphins “if the Earth Island Institute doesn’t pay what they claim they are owed” and says that the slaughter could affect tourism in the country, which was visited by Prince William and Kate on their tour of the Pacific last year.
Michael Tokuru, head of the Solomon Islands’ visitors’ bureau, said the row could damage the country’s efforts to promote eco-tourism. “I have no doubt in my mind that there will be some impact with regards to our image,” he said. “It will have some negative impact.”
Tourism operators in the country have also called for the Solomon Islands government to get involved. One dive operator told Radio Australia he feared that “people will become more and more disgusted when they realise what’s happening”.
The campaigning website Care2 explains: “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 jewellery or as currency on the island.” It is reported that the islanders also sell some dolphins to marine parks.
The Solomon Islands is said to have some of the world’s best diving sites, thanks to the World War II wrecks that lie in its waters. However, the country has been unstable for years and has been rebuilding since the end of a civil war in 2003.