Further 300 dolphins slaughtered

SLAUGHTER: Bottlenose dolphins have been killed in the dozens in the Solomons.
SLAUGHTER: Bottlenose dolphins have been killed in the dozens in the Solomons.

At least 300 more dolphins have been slaughtered in a remote Solomon Islands village in the last day or two with locals saying they will continue doing it until March.

In the last week, about 1000 dolphins, including 240 calves, were killed by Fanalei village on Malaita in what is partly a row with an American environmental group who were paying them not to kill, and a resurgence of a long customary tradition of killing dolphins for their teeth.

Fanalei is the main supplier of dolphin teeth used as bride payment around the Solomon Islands.

New York based Earth Island Institute (EII) had promised last April to pay Fanalei S$2.4 million (NZ$400,000) over two years not to kill dolphins, but villagers claim they had only received S$700,000.

So they decided to resume killing.

The Solomon Star quotes Fanalei chief Willson Filei saying the villagers are on a “killing spree”.

He said he had tried to stop the villagers, but family members who live in the capital Honiara were influencing them.

“That was a total waste because these calves are not worth anything. Calves do not have teeth, so it was a waste of the young dolphins’ lives. Even if they were released, they won’t survive because their mothers were already killed.”

Filei said he cared more about the deal with EII because he was the person who struck it. The Honiara people had only got involved when they tried to get a share of the money.

“I wash my hands from this recent string of slaughter.”

Fanalei, population 52 families, has a long tradition of dolphin killing.

In 2000, Daisuke Takekawa of Japan’s Kitakyushu University lived in Fanalei for nine months, went dolphin hunting and wrote an account of the “saltwater people”, published by the South Pacific Commission.

He said dolphin teeth are the traditional currency of the Solomons, the bride price and the personal adornment.

“Young girls are decked out with beautiful shell beads and dolphin teeth, and young boys and their parents collect many teeth to take these girls for wives.”

To hunt dolphins, groups of men go by dugout canoe to the open sea early in the morning, and drive individual schools of dolphins to the beach by hitting two stones together below the surface of the water.

“They usually live by the beach and possess a profound knowledge about the sea,” Takekawa said.

Fanalei villagers perceive their biological and physical environment, and especially the dolphin.

The village oral history says a Polynesian woman named Barafaifu introduced dolphin hunting to Malaita from Ontong Java, 500km away.

She found Fanalei the best place for it.

“She gave the Malokwalo clan, already settled there, the magic stone capable of gathering dolphins with the spell of the sea spirit.”

They hunted dolphins after that, but in the mid-19th century the only two men who could transmit the spell were killed; it is said by a devil.

On occasions the village started hunting again, especially when they needed teeth to pay other villages, but Christianity arrived and began to suppress some customs.

It was only resumed in 1948 with the independence based Masina Rule Movement.

Takekawa said dolphin hunting required skilled team work and heavy labour.

Although it was possible to obtain hundreds at a time, often they get nothing and the village has no meat.

 “Even today Fanalei is the only village that constantly catches dolphins. The villagers are proud of their traditional status and their annual collection of some 100,000 dolphin teeth, almost all of which are sent to other parts of Malaita and neighbouring islands.”

Hunting is simple. Single canoes without out-riggers are used, and to drive dolphins hunters hit two 15cm diameter stones together beneath the sea surface.

Signal flags on the ends of four metre high bamboo are used between canoes up to 2km apart.

Most adult male villagers hunt every day during the season – January through April - when the trade winds do not blow.

Hunting starts at about 4am with the men gathering in a meeting house to pray for success.

“The solitary hunters float on the sea until midday waiting for them.”

With the finding of dolphins, complex manoeuvres take place to drive them.

The dolphins rush directly away from the stones as they are crashed together.

“When the school approaches another canoe, the hunter in it starts to hit his stones. He must make a sound by the side of the school so as not to split it into groups.

“Thus, as in a football game where the ball is passed and directed toward a goal, hunters drive a school of dolphins toward the Port Adam passage in front of Fanalei village.”

It takes four hours or so. Once in the passage women and children help to drive the dolphins into a mangrove bay.

“Then everyone jumps into the sea to catch them. They hold a dolphin gently by its mouth and swim with it toward a canoe, in which they are transported back to the village.”

The average capture is about 80 a time. The villagers recognise 15 different types of dolphin.