Scientists are worried that a form of fishing used in the Solomon Islands is threatening the dolphin population. They are concerned that too many dolphins are being killed for their meat and teeth.
Fishermen there do a type of fishing called drive hunting. Groups of hunters on canoes row out to sea. Then they clap stones together to round up dolphins.
Scientists studied hunting records and talked to local residents for a study. They found that more than 15,000 dolphins were killed from hunts in just one village between 1976 and 2013.
The Solomon Islands is a country of more than 900 islands in the Pacific Ocean, north of Australia. It has a native population that goes back almost 3,000 years. The islands were the site of fighting between the Japanese and U.S. armies in World War II, including a famous battle at Guadalcanal.
Dolphin Teeth Valued For "Bride Prizes" The hunt has a long history in the Solomon Islands, for cultural and financial reasons. For the people on the Solomon Islands, they have hunted for dolphin teeth. Necklaces made of dolphin teeth are "bride prizes" that young men give to their future wives as an engagement present. The meat is also sold for cash.
Jewelry made of dolphin teeth sells in the markets and each tooth is worth about 70 U.S. cents. The price of dolphin teeth has gone up over the last 10 years. The teeth are now worth five times what they were 10 years ago. That gives the hunters more reason to catch dolphins.
The high price for teeth is troubling, said Scott Baker, who is one of the study's authors. As the traditional hunt gains in value, it can put the dolphin population in danger, said Baker. As well as being a researcher, Baker also helps lead the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University.
The study looked at one village, called Fanalei, where drive hunting is popular. The village made a deal in 2010 with an international group and got cash to encourage people to stop hunting the dolphins. The deal broke down in 2013 and hunting began again. The local news reported that hundreds of dolphins were killed in the new hunts. The numbers attracted the attention of scientists, who started a fact-finding mission to figure out the effect of the hunts.
Villagers Kill Nearly 1,700 In Just 3 Months What they found was troubling. During just the first three months of 2013, the villagers killed at least 1,674 dolphins. Most of them were spotted dolphins, but the fishermen also killed spinner dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. More dolphins were killed in that hunt than in 2013 during the famous Taiji hunt in Japan, which was featured in the documentary "The Cove."
The hunt in Fanalei was large, Baker said. So many dolphins died that scientists worry they are in danger of disappearing. The scientists said the study showed the government should have rules for the hunts.
The International Whaling Commission is a group that protects large whales. However, the Commission has its limits. It does not protect smaller marine animals like dolphins.
"Marine Bushmeat" Replaces Other Fish Baker said dolphin hunting around the world is increasing. Many fishermen can't catch the fish they used to because of pollution and overfishing, so they have turned to dolphins as an alternative.
The fishermen are using the dolphins as "marine bushmeat." Some countries sell wild animals they catch as "bushmeat," instead of more common meats like beef or pork. The dolphins are the Solomon Islands' version of bushmeat.
Baker said fishermen sometimes pick up marine mammals in their nets by mistake along with the other fish. While this had been a problem for decades, it is now becoming a big issue. It looks as if the dolphins are becoming a target on their own, he said.
The Solomon Islands hunt is a warning sign of what could happen in other countries, Baker said.