Scientists call for monitoring of Solomons dolphin hunt
Scientists are calling for more research and monitoring of traditional dolphin hunting practices in Solomon Islands.
The South Pacific Whale Research Consortium are calling for more scientific monitoring of traditional dolphin hunting practices in Solomon Islands.
In 2010 The Earth Island Institute was able to negotiate a moratorium on the practice with dolphin hunting tribes. But the agreement fell apart in 2013 and the ensuing hunt saw more than 1500 dolphins killed in the space of a few months.
An associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and Auckland University adjunct professor, Scott Baker, was part of a team that documented the mass dolphin killings in 2013..
He told Koroi Hawkins says there is simply not enough data of the ongoing practice.
SCOTT BAKER: We found evidence from the Hunters records of 1500 dolphins killed just in the first few months of the hunting season for 2013. And we were able to determine, you know roughly with reasonable accuracy which species were being taken as well. We also took the opportunity to examine older catch records and so to be able to fill in at least for some of the years where catch records hadn't been previously available at least not available in the scientific literature. And that allowed us to summarise at least for the village of Fanalei you know their total catch record over the last thirty years or more. And it was a pretty astounding number more than 15000 dolphins in their records.
KOROI HAWKINS: For the developed world this must be like a horror show of data?
SB: People are aware of the long history of the drive hunt so yes I think there is certainly been concern about it in terms of animal welfare issues. There hasn't probably been quite as much attention given to the conservation issues of it that of course really is our primary objective. Of course we are concerned with animal welfare issues but we are primarily concerned with the potential for the depletion of the local population. And in that we had, I think, some sympathy from the local hunters. I mean the local hunters are obviously knowledgeable about their own resources and they realise that the numbers they are taking may not be sustainable. But there is not the kind of information that would inform kind of a management or a policy because there's not good estimates of abundance or even a good understanding of the local population structure for these species.
KH: So what you are calling for is for that study to find out how many dolphins there are, what kind of dolphins they are and what's a manageable number?
SB: Yes, I think we are raising that alarm that these are large numbers taken from coastal populations that may well be relatively localised and so not terribly abundant and yes the government of the Solomon Islands has actually been very supportive of this work but their resources are not sufficient to gather the kinds of information you'd really need for an adequate management plan.
KH: And so your call is this to the global community? What are you suggesting or what are you suggesting or what are you asking be done?
SB: Well we would like to see support in some form that would allow the Solomon Islands government to access that kind of information that would be required. There are some intermediate steps to improved documentation of the hunt itself and that seemed to be consistent with the views of the hunters as well. They certainly were generous in sharing their records with us. But having a better understanding of the numbers and the species and better documentation. That is they keep local records but really there should be a probably a more systematic process by which the each year's hunts are recorded for each of the villages. And that would probably require, you know some assistance to the Solomon Islands government at least in terms of advice about how to structure this kind of a management plan.
KH: And were there any recommendations other than what we are talking about in your report?
SB: We make the point that hunting of small cetaceans that is dolphins and the small whales is not actually controlled by any international convention. That is something that a lot of people are probably unaware of you know because the international controversy over whaling has had so much public attention and that is of course controlled by the International Whaling Commission under an international convention. That convention doesn't specifically exclude small cetaceans but the member nations of the IWC currently are not willing to consider that the IWC has competency to advise on the small cetaceans including the hunting of small cetaceans.
KH: From a scientific point of view are you condemning the traditional dolphin hunting activities or are you saying this is going to continue happening it is better that we just find out what is there and manage it properly?
SB: Well I believe that really is a decision for the Solomon Islands government. Although I don't doubt that they would take world opinion into account so I suppose they have to reconcile themselves to the fact that that hunt is probably going to not be popular internationally. Our role though scientifically is really to provide advice and in this case also to raise concerns about the conservation issues. The welfare issues I think have been pretty well addressed or are reasonably well known. The hunt is probably pretty brutal and a considerable cause of suffering for the animals I don't think anyone disputes that.
KH: Would you say that the hunting practice in the Solomon Islands is unsustainable?
SB: The species that are being hunted are widely distributed and generally abundant but what we have learned over the last decade or two studying populations in islands throughout Oceania is that they tend to form these local coastal populations or insular island dependent populations and those are likely to be much much smaller that is much less abundant. And these are very large numbers and so you would have to have an extremely abundant local population to be able to sustain this kind of a hunt.
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