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Massive, Violent Dolphin Hunt

Clock Ticks Against Captured Marine Mammals

BOSTON-- The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) expressed deep concern today for the welfare of dozens of dolphins captured and confined in small pens by local fisherman in the Solomon Islands, north of Australia. Here’s what we know so far:

Countless dolphins have been taken in the last few weeks, as the result of a $400 bounty placed on their heads by a foreign business group. Local fishermen have been rounding up animals by the dozen, which the syndicate is rumored to be collecting and training for shipment overseas. At least 60 animals are currently being held on the island of Gela and locals say that dozens more are confined in other locations.

Adding to WSPA’s alarm are reports of the conditions that the animals are forced to endure. Media accounts tell of inexperienced fisherman literally ripping animals from the water. And many of the captured must travel for hours by open boat to their holding pens. For a water-borne creature, the long ride is excruciating, as its internal organs are slowly crushed by its immense weight. Questions surround the legality of this hunt.

One captured dolphin has already been killed by a crocodile and WSPA experts expect that the death toll will rise from stress-induced illness, improper care and malnutrition as dolphins battle for the scarce food supply.

According to Richard O’Barry, WSPA Marine Mammal Specialist and former trainer of TV’s Flipper, "The large number of animals is extremely difficult to manage, especially if you don’t have the right medicines, equipment and staff. It appears that the animals are in very crowded conditions, which is also of concern because this can lead to stress and aggression. Another thing to consider is that it takes thousands of pounds of fish - per day - to feed so many dolphins. Either the dolphins are going hungry, which I suspect is happening anyway in this chaotic environment, or the Solomons are strip mining their seas of fish."

Dolphin Hunt

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Dolphins have long been a cherished part of the Solomon Islands’ cultural heritage. Many of the animals are being taken from waters off the island of Malaita, where dolphin teeth are part of traditional bridal dowry ceremonies. And in other areas, it is taboo to harm a dolphin, based on the ancient belief that humans with mystical powers could transform themselves into sea creatures.

While the fate of the dolphins is at the forefront of this crisis, this situation may also speak volumes about the plight facing the Solomon Islands itself. With the political system in disorder, many see this as yet another example of the country being taken advantage of by foreign profiteers, its natural resources plundered and its cultural heritage cast aside.

A UN-recognized animal protection charity, WSPA’s network of veterinarians and marine mammal rescue experts is on stand-by to advise the government on this crisis.

"This situation is already problematic and will only spiral out of control," says O’Barry. "Given the special status of dolphins in the local culture, I hope that the government will move soon to stop the dolphins-for-dollars scheme and end the suffering."

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Richard O'Barry
Marine Mammal Specialist
World Society for the Protection of Animals.
34 Deloss Street, Framingham, MA 01702 USA
Tel: (305) 668-1619
Fax: (305) 668-1619