TOKYO, BERKELEY––The Japanese Association of Zoos & Aquariums may have sunk the profits from “drive fishery” dolphin massacres at Taiji, Japan, but what does the JAZA decision mean for the apparently bigger “drive fishery” killings at Fanalei, in the Solomon Islands?
Facing expulsion from the World Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the JAZA board on May 20, 2015 “decided that JAZA will prohibit its members from acquiring wild dolphins caught by drive fishing in Taiji and from taking part in their export and sale,” JAZA wrote to WAZA.
But, Japan Times staff writer Tomoko Otake reported, “JAZA chair Kazutoshi Arai told a news conference that the decision was on whether to stay in the world body, not on condemning or endorsing the fishery drives at Taiji. Arai added that the group’s position is that ‘the drive hunt itself is not cruel.’”
Most of the money motivating the Taiji dolphin massacres, documented in the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary film The Cove, has come in recent decades from the sale of young dolphins to exhibitors. Eighteen JAZA member aquariums recently admitted to the newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun that they have purchased a total of 158 dolphins from Taiji. More Taiji dolphins are believed to have been sold for export.
Will trade shift from Taiji to Fanalei?
If JAZA member aquariums are no longer able to replenish their exhibits with dolphins from Taiji, will they turn to Fanalei instead?
If Taiji is forced out of the global dolphin supply trade, will Fanalei capture a much larger share of it?
The Fanalei “drive fishery” came to global notice in 2005, largely through the efforts of Dolphin Project founder Ric O’Barry, the former Flipper trainer who left the dolphin exhibition industry in 1970 and has worked ever since to stop it.
Featured in The Cove, O’Barry from 2006 until late 2014 worked under the auspices of the Earth Island Institute International Marine Mammal Project. O’Barry and Earth Island senior staff David Phillips and Mark Berman in April 2010 negotiated a suspension of dolphin killing and captures in the Solomons, but the deal disintegrated two years later.
Investigating 2012-2013 massacre
Solomon Islands dolphin hunters, Canadian dolphin broker Christopher Porter, and some far-right U.S. news media blamed Earth Island for the reported massacre of more than 1,000 dolphins in December 2012 and January 2013, after the deal fell apart.
Venturing to the Solomons in March 2013 to investigate, after making several earlier trips to the Solomons to do other research, academic authors Marc Oremus, John Leqata, and C. Scott Baker published their findings in the May 6, 2015 edition of the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Oremus, Leqata, and Baker in “Resumption of traditional drive hunting of dolphins in the Solomon Islands in 2013” express concern about the recent growth of the “drive fisheries” at Fanalei, but argue that capturing dolphins for resale is not among the major motivating factors.
Bottlenose dolphins not targeted?
“Spinner dolphins and pantropical spotted dolphins have been the most common species targeted since the 1960s, ” Oremus, Leqata, and Baker wrote, “The controversial live-capture export trade of dolphins, initiated by the Solomon Islands in 2003, does not relate directly to traditional drive hunting. This export trade is focused on the capture of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin, a species that is not targeted by hunters, presumably because it does not respond to traditional driving techniques.”
But bottlenose dolphins are the species captured and killed in the greatest numbers at Taiji, setting up the possibility that the Solomon Islanders could capture them in greater numbers by emulating the slightly different Taiji roundup technique.
“The main objective of the drive hunt is to obtain teeth that are used as traditional currency, bride price, adornment and, more recently, for cash sale,” Oremus, Leqata, and Baker said. “However, the meat from the carcasses is also consumed, either within the hunting villages or after being sold locally on other islands and especially Honiara, Guadalcanal.
Dolphin hunting revived by clergy
“Although there is a general perception that drive hunts for dolphins are conducted throughout the Solomon Islands,” Oremus, Leqata, and Baker continued, “in fact this traditional practice is largely confined to a few villages on the island of Malaita and involves only Lau-speaking people. Oral history from Fanalei village indicates that the dolphin hunt might have stopped around the middle of the nineteenth century, maybe in relation to the introduction of Christianity. However, hunting was revived at Fanalei in 1948 by William Masura, the local vicar , and then introduced anew at other Lau villages by Father Martin Fia in 1958.
“In 1964, the scale of hunting increased markedly, resulting in catches of several thousand dolphins per year,” Oremus, Leqata, and Baker recounted. “This expansion could be due to an increased market demand for dolphin teeth.”
813 dolphins per year
Found Oremus, Leqata, and Baker, after extensive review of local records and many interviews with “drive fishery” participants and witnesses, “Across the total period 1976–2013, a minimum of 15,454 dolphins were killed by the Fanalei villagers, with a mean annual catch of 813 dolphins. However, this is clearly an underestimate of the number of dolphins hunted in the Solomon Islands,” Oremus, Leqata, and Baker cautioned, “as we lack data for 16 hunting years across this period and only consider the community of Fanalei.”
Noted Elahe Izadi of the Washington Post, “The [average] figure surpasses the total killed in 2013 during Japan’s well-known Taiji hunt.” Izadi mentioned “the rise of ‘marine bushmeat’: as fisheries’ primary targets decline, more and more fishers may be turning to secondary targets, such as dolphins.
“By-catches — incidental tagging of marine mammals — has been the primary concern [of marine mammal conservationists] over the past few decades, and that is a big issue,” Baker told Izadi. “Those by-catches may now become the primary target. We see the Solomon Islands as a warning flag of what might be a larger pattern in developing countries.”
Phillips of Earth Island is skeptical
The Oremus, Leqata, and Baker assessment largely contradicted a statement issued by Phillips of Earth Island on February 19, 2014 in response to public criticisms of the Earth Island role in the Solomons.
“In numerous instances in the past, local villagers have claimed to have killed many hundreds of dolphins, but our local monitor went to the villages and found no evidence of a kill at all,” Phillips said.
“The number of tribal dolphin killers and the number of vessels they have are both low,” Phillips continued. “There is no refrigeration on these islands, so if large numbers of dolphins are killed, the meat rots on the beaches,” a contention which overlooks the traditional practices of salting and/or smoking dolphin meat.
“Killing dolphins for their teeth and then using it as a form of currency also takes place,” Phillips acknowledged, but again pointed out that remains were usually not in evidence.
“There are no accurate figures of how many dolphins are killed per year,” Phillips said. “Our guess would be that the number of dolphins killed in an entire year would be in the low hundreds. Claims of 600 or 900 at a time are simply hyperbole.
“Several dolphin exporters continue to push for a return to capturing large numbers of wild dolphins for export to other countries for aquariums and swim-with-dolphins programs,” Phillips finished. “We suspect they may be pushing villagers to kill dolphins, in an attempt to then exploit future hunts for captive dolphins. Dolphin meat has no value beyond local trade, but a trained dolphin can bring as much as $150,000 or more.”
Dolphins for ransom
Solomon Star News coverage supported the Earth Island Institute contention that the dolphin hunters in 2012-2013 got greedy, after three years of in effect holding dolphins for ransom.
Earth Island Institute had issued $98,000 in grants meant to help dolphin hunters to develop new ways to make a living, but suspended the grant-making in April 2012––as required by U.S. law governing foreign grant-making by U.S. charities––after becoming aware that the money was not being distributed as intended.
An overt dolphins-for-ransom scheme followed. Dolphin captures for sale resumed, and then dolphin killing on an apparently unprecedented scale, after Western Province premier George Solingi Lilo warned that any further attempts to hold dolphins for ransom would be prosecuted.
“Earth Island Institute failed to pay $237,000, the remaining part of the $335,000 it had promised to compensate the people of Fanalei and Walande for refraining from their traditional hunting and killing of dolphins for a period of two years,” the Fanalei Honiara Based Association charged in a prepared statement. The money, the FHBA claimed, was to be paid “for doing away with trading dolphin meat and teeth as their major source of earning money.”
The killing erupted, the Solomon Star News reported, with the slaughter of 134 dolphins at Ata’a in North East Malaita province in early December 2012. Then more than 700 dolphins were killed during the third week in January 2013, and another 300 on January 24, Fanalei chief Willson Filei told the Solomon Star News.
Filei said that about 240 of the slain dolphins were calves, as confirmed by photographs of the hunters holding up the carcasses.
“That was a total waste because these calves are not worth anything,” said Filei. “Calves do not have teeth, so it was a waste of the young dolphins’ lives. Even if they were released, they would not survive because their mothers were killed.”
The Fanalei Honiara Based Association statements blaming Earth Island were extracted from the Solomon Star News and amplified by the Washington Free Beacon, an online periodical published from Arlington, Virginia by Matthew Joseph Continetti, son-in-law of far-right commentator William Kristol.
Earth Island’s version
Said Phillips of Earth Island, at the time, “In 2010 we reached agreement with Fanalei tribe and two other villages to stop killing dolphins in exchange for support for sustainability projects to help the villages. A major portion of the funding we provided to Fanalei, was misappropriated by a renegade group that lives in the Solomon Islands capital city of Honiara. They have ignored all requests for accounting for the funds and undertaken a mass dolphin kill in the mistaken view that it would get them more funding.
“Dolphin traders stand to make millions by continuing the cruel capture and trade in live dolphins,” Phillips emphasized. “Supporting the tribal slaughter gives them cover, and provides a way to get villagers to capture dolphins for them. Traffickers including Canadian citizen Christopher Porter and Solomon Islands resident Robert Satu,” Phillips alleged, “have a long history of bankrolling village captures of dolphins who sell for up to $150,000 to facilities in China, Singapore, Mexico, and Dubai. Now we have a mass dolphin kill, while the lead dolphin trafficker, Satu, provides encouragement and wants to get in on it himself. It is time to investigate whether he and others opposed to Earth Island’s dolphin protection efforts are funding the renegade group’s slaughter of dolphins.”
“Will tell my boys to do a collection”
Satu himself appeared to confirm Phillips’ allegations in a January 31, 2013 interview with Radio New Zealand. “I agree with the Honiara Based Committee from Fanalei to continue harvesting. And for me too, I will tell my boys to do a collection,” Satu said.
Satu claimed Earth Island had offered to buy captive dolphins from him, perhaps referring to an October 2012 incident in which Earth Island Institute regional director Lawrence Makili paid $1,400 U.S. to secure the release of seven surviving dolphins from among a group of 10 who had been captured by Kolombangara villagers led by one Jacob Mate.
Mate initially demanded “12 permanent houses and $42,000.”
Threatened with arrest, Mate reduced his demand. “We want Earth Island Institute or any other organization that wishes to have our dolphins released to compensate us $20,000,” he said, before accepting the $1,400.
Mate’s demand for housing as part of his initial ransom request appeared to derive from the success of the Safe Dolphin Housing Project, sponsored by Earth Island Institute at Bita’ama, after the Bita’ama villagers agreed to not resume traditional dolphin hunts that they had discontinued several years earlier.
Fanalei and Walande “prefer cash assistance, which led to disagreements,” wrote Ednal R. Palmer of the Solomon Star News.
“We have never offered to buy dolphins”
Said Phillips, “We have never offered to buy dolphins from any dolphin trafficker, nor would we ever. We believe the dolphin traffickers are responsible for cruelty, and are a threat to dolphin survival. They bring shame to the Solomon Islands. We have repeatedly pressed for the Solomon Islands government to step in and stop their captures.
“Porter, partner with Satu in Marine Exports Limited, was reportedly in the Solomon Islands up until just before the dolphin slaughter began, promoting a ‘Research Institute’ scheme,” Phillips noted. “His last scheme held captive dolphins for tourism and export.”
Employed by Sealand of the Pacific, in Victoria, British Columbia, 1989-1993, Porter moved to the Vancouver Aquarium in 1994, after Sealand closed, and then to the Aquario di Genova in Italy. He and Satu incorporated Marine Exports Limited in 2002 to broker dolphins captured in the Solomons.
“None of the recent dolphins were collected for keeping alive,” Porter said in January 2013. “All the dolphins were part of a regular annual hunt of dolphins for their teeth and meat. The agreement done by Ric O’Barry and Earth Island was never concluded in a fashion that was sustainable. The village returned to hunting.”
Porter and Satu captured about 220 dolphins in the Solomons through 2007, 83 of whom were eventually sold to resorts in Dubai and Cancun, Mexico. Pending sale, the dolphins were kept in heavily guarded sea pens at Fanalei.
“Pointlessness of captivity”
Porter in March 2010 told Judith Lavoie of the Victoria Times Colonist that he had decided to return the last 17 dolphins to the wild, influenced by the February 2009 killing of trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando by Tilikum, an orca Porter trained at Sealand of the Pacific. Tilikum and two other Sealand orcas in 1991 killed trainer Keltie Byrne, 20. Tilikum was also involved in the 1999 death of a man who sneaked into SeaWorld Orlando after hours.
“Tilikum and other animals showed me the pointlessness of captivity,” Porter claimed. “I envision a future where people spend more time in the oceans than aquariums. I am dedicating my life to offering solutions for the dolphins that work.”
Porter is not known to have sold dolphins since 2007, but Marine Exports Limited has pursued compensation from the Solomon Islands Ministry of Fisheries for not selling dolphins. In January 2012, wrote Solomon Star News court reporter Assumpta Buchanan, the Solomon Islands High Court ordered the Ministry of Fisheries to pay Marine Exports Limited more than $140,000.
Explained Buchanan, “In January 2005 the cabinet decided to effectively ban export of any live dolphins from Solomon Islands. In June 2005,” however, Marine Exports Limited “executed a contract with Wildlife International Network Inc. of Orlando, Florida,” which was to buy 25 bottlenose dolphins from Marine Exports Limited.
Denied an export permit, Marine Exports Limited won a default judgment against the Ministry of Fisheries in 2006. The policy against dolphin exports was rescinded for a time, allowing Marine Exports Limited to sell 28 dolphins to Dubai in 2007, but was reinstated in 2012.
Dolphin hunting for “research”
Regardless of the live dolphin export opportunities, Oremus, Leqata, and Baker concluded, the Fanalei hunt is likely to continue.
“It was our impression,” Oremus, Leqata, and Baker wrote, “that the people of Fanalei were puzzled by the attention they attracted in resuming the dolphin hunt. To them, it seemed that the agreement with Earth Island Institute represented only a rather brief lapse in a long history of hunting. They explained that stopping the hunt had brought much tension in the village and that resuming it brought back peace among community members. Therefore, they made it clear that they intended to continue the hunt.
“However,” Oremus, Leqata, and Baker continued, “it was also our impression that the hunters were aware of, and willing to discuss, the conservation implications of over-exploitation. They also expressed concern about dolphin ‘by-catch’ by purse seiners in the Solomon Islands, seeing this as a threat to their local resource. They were not very receptive to the idea of introducing a quota or catch limit for the drive hunt, as they are concerned that would be too restrictive. On the other hand, they could see the value of collecting scientific data that might help increase the probability that the drive hunting could continue in future generations.”
In other words, Oremus, Leqata, and Baker found that the Fanalei dolphin hunters were open to adopting the pretext of doing “research whaling” that has long been exploited in Japan.