While dolphin drives taking place in Taiji every year have gained international attention and opposition, researchers are shedding light on how drive hunts taking place in other parts of the world are threatening the future of cetaceans.
For a study just published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers looked to the Solomon Islands where hunting dolphins has a long tradition. According to the study, between 1976 and 2013, more than 15,000 dolphins were killed by just one village.
Dolphins are killed for their meat, but the demand for their teeth, which are used to make jewelry used in wedding ceremonies or sold for cash, is also increasing the number of deaths. A single tooth is worth about 70 cents (USD), but their commercial value has increased five times in the last decade alone.
Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and co-author on the study, called it a troubling trend that’s providing more incentive to kill.
In 2010, the Earth Island Institute worked out a deal with three villages to stop hunting by offering financial compensation to support alternative activities for local communities but the life-saving agreement for dolphins was short lived.
Unfortunately, the deal broke down in 2013 and the killing resumed. The media reported high numbers of deaths, which raised concerns about the impact on both the status of the population and the welfare of dolphins who suffer as a result of being caught and killed.
That’s when researchers from the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium, Solomon Island’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute say they decided to go there and document the impact on the dolphin population.
According to their findings, during the first few months of that year more than 1,500 spotted dolphins, 159 spinner dolphins, and 15 bottlenose dolphins were killed in one of the largest hunts on record – one that sadly rivals the annual hunts in Taiji.
Baker pointed out that while hunting larger species like whales is regulated by the International Whaling Commission, smaller cetaceans are left without any official body to protect or regulate the killing, which is leaving them vulnerable to unregulated and unreported hunting.
“In the Solomon Islands, the hunting is as much about culture as economic value,” said Baker. “In other parts of the world, however, the targeting of dolphins and other small cetaceans appears to be increasing as coastal fishing stocks decline.”
Researchers say their findings point to a need to step in and stop unregulated exploitation, along with adopting better monitoring of populations and documentation of kills and promoting tourism operations that value live dolphins, among other changes, which we can hope will eventually lead to an end of these drive hunts and live captures.