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NZ Urged: Stop Shipment of Solomon Island Dolphins

Protests grow over expected shipment of Solomon Island dolphins

New Zealand and Australia are being urged to intervene to prevent wild-caught dolphins from being exported from the Solomon Islands.

It is estimated that up to 200 dolphins have been taken from the wild by local fishermen in response to a bounty of $400 per dolphin. To date, this is the largest capture of wild dolphins ever recorded. It is feared that the aircraft that will transport these dolphins has already landed in the Solomon Islands, and that shipment will commence shortly.

With New Zealand and Australia on the verge of dispatching interventionist forces to the Solomon Islands, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) is urging both governments to use their influence to ensure that immediate action is taken to return all the dolphins back to the wild, subject to any necessary health checks.

Foreign business interests are believed to be collecting and training a number of the dolphins for shipment to Mexico and other countries, where a single captive dolphin can be worth up to $30,000. WSPA is concerned at reports that a Mexican business plans to import a number of these dolphins for use in controversial captive swim with the dolphin programmes. Mexico has, in fact, banned all dolphin captures in its own waters since January 2002 and is on the verge of banning imports and exports of all species of marine mammals. Georgia Stephenson, WSPA’s Regional Director Australia and New Zealand, said, “This is an animal welfare tragedy and we are calling on New Zealand and Australia to use their influence to stop the captures and set these captive dolphins free. Time is running out if we are to save these dolphins from being consigned to a life in captivity. WSPA is opposed to the use of animals for entertainment and believes that the nature of the dolphins’ capture, transport and holding is unacceptable on welfare grounds.”

According to local media reports, fisherman have been taking the dolphins from the water and holding them in small sea cages on the island of Gela, off the capital, Honiara. Once caught, dolphins may travel for hours by open boat before reaching these cages; journeys that are excruciating for these marine mammals, as their internal organs are susceptible to being damaged by their body weight once out of the water. A crocodile has already killed one captured dolphin and there have been reports of further deaths. WSPA fears that the death toll could rise significantly as stress-induced illness, improper care and malnutrition take their toll.

All species of dolphin are protected from illegal trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The Solomon Islands has not signed up to CITES. However, the Convention, to which Mexico is a signatory, restricts international trade in dolphins where it is detrimental to wild populations, and also requires proper licensing and regulation. 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. 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. -ends-

Editors’ Notes

An estimated 1,000 dolphins are currently held in captivity worldwide.

A pod of dolphins can number from 30 to 600 dolphins. The main species caught in the waters surrounding the Solomon Islands are Spinner (Stenella longirostris) and Spotted (Stenella attennuata). Other species include Striped (S coeruleoalba), Common (Delphinus delphis), Bottlenose (Tursiops truncatus), Frasers (Lagenodelphis hosei) and Risso's (Grampus griseus).

WSPA is recognised by the UN and works to raise the standards of animal welfare throughout the world. As the leading international federation of animal welfare organisations, WSPA’s campaigns and projects are developed in partnership with more than 440 member societies in over 100 countries. Through its campaigns, education, training and animal rescue initiatives, WSPA seeks to ensure that the principles of animal welfare are universally understood and respected, and protected by effectively enforced legislation.

For details of how people can help WSPA in its campaign to free the dolphins, please go to http://www.wspa-international.org

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