Mass hunting of dolphins for their teeth has resumed in the Solomon Islands

Sam Greenfield/Dongfeng Race Team/Volvo Ocean Race via Getty Images

Traditional dolphin hunting in the Solomon Islands, which mostly stopped in 2010, has resumed with about 1,500 killed in 2013 by one village alone, say scientists.

The dolphins are killed mainly for their teeth, which are used as traditional currency to pay for bride price — payment on marriage to the wife’s family.

Researchers say stopping the hunt will be difficult, even with international intervention, but collecting data will at least allow the dolphin populations, which are not on the endangered list, to be managed sustainably.

Hunting dolphins has a long history in the Solomon Islands, mainly on the island of Malaita. The value of dolphin teeth has increased in value over the last decade.

In 2010, hunting was suspended in exchange for compensation from an international conservation group. This agreement broke down and hunting resumed in early 2013.

When dolphins are found, the local hunters clap rounded stones together to create a percussive underwater sound. Up to 30 canoes are formed into a U shape to herd the dolphins to shallow water where they are killed.

Marc Oremus of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium, writing in the journal Royal Society Open Science, says this is one of the largest hunts of dolphins in the world and highlights the need for better management of cetacean exploitation in the developing world.

Oremus visited the village of Fanalei in March 2013 to document the species and record number of dolphins killed in the renewed hunting.

A summary of all available records from 1976 to 2013 documented a minimum of 15,454 dolphins killed by one village.

Source: Royal Society

The local price of a dolphin tooth increased from about US$0.14 ($1 Solomon Islands) in 2004 to about US$0.70 ($5 Solomon Islands) in 2013.

“The large number of dolphins killed and the apparent incentive for future hunting offered by the increasing commercial value of teeth, highlight an urgent need to monitor hunts and assess the abundance and trends in local populations,” Oremus writes.

Oremus did the study with colleagues from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources of the Solomon Islands Government and the Marine Mammal Institute and Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University.