1,000 dolphins massacred in Solomon Islands doublecross

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  March 2013:

HONIARA,  Solomon Islands;  BERKELEY,  Calif.––Dolphin hunters in the Solomon Islands,  dolphin broker Christopher Porter, and some far-right U.S. news media are blaming the Earth Island Institute Marine Mammal Project for the massacre of more than 1,000 dolphins in December 2012 and January 2013.   Ongoing coverage by the Solomon Star News,  however,  supports the Earth Island Institute contention that the dolphin hunters just got greedy,  after three years of in effect holding dolphins for ransom.  Earth Island Institute had issued $98,000 in grants meant to help dolphin hunters to develop new ways to make a living,  but suspended the grant-making in April 2012––as required by U.S. law governing foreign grant-making by U.S. charities––after becoming aware that the money was not being distributed as intended.

An overt dolphins- for-ransom scheme followed.  Dolphin captures for sale resumed,  and then dolphin killing on an apparently unprecedented scale,  after Western Province premier George Solingi Lilo warned that any further attempts to hold dolphins for ransom would be prosecuted.

“Earth Island Institute failed to pay $237,000,  the remaining part of the $335,000 it had promised to compensate the people of Fanalei and Walande for refraining from their traditional hunting and killing of dolphins for a period of two years,”  the Fanalei Honiara Based Association charged in a prepared statement.   The money,  the FHBA claimed,  was to be paid “for doing away with trading dolphin meat and teeth as their major source of earning money.”

The killing erupted,  the Solomon Star News reported,  with the slaughter of 134 dolphins at Ata’a in North East Malaita province in early December 2012.  Then more than 700 dolphins were killed during the third week in January 2013,  and another 300 on January 24,  Fanalei chief Willson Filei told the Solomon Star News.

Politics of massacre

“I spoke out against the hunt,”  Filei said,  “but the villagers were encouraged by Fanalei Honiara Based Association members, who have been working against the Earth Island Institute project in Fanalei since day one of establishing the agreement.  They were badly influenced,”  Filei emphasized.

Filei said that about 240 of the slain dolphins were calves,  as confirmed by photographs of the hunters holding up the carcasses.  “That was a total waste because these calves are not worth anything,”  Filei continued.  “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 killed.”

“The Fanalei Honiara Based Association was only formed when they learned that money was actually coming in,”  Filei continued,  denouncing three association members by name.  “They then messed up the whole project and encouraged the villagers to return to the hunt.”

Fanalei Honiara Based Association spokesperson Philip Ouou responded that “The community of Fanalei had unanimously terminated Filei’s former role as chief of the village,”  because of Filei’s dealing with Earth Island Institute.

Reported the Solomon Star News,  “Ouou reminded Earth Island Institute that the only way it can strike any future deals with the dolphin hunters of Fanalei is through consultations with the Fanalei Honiara Based Association.”

The Fanalei Honiara Based Association statements were extracted from the Solomon Star News and amplified by the Washington Free Beacon,  an online periodical published from Arlington,  Virginia by Matthew Joseph Continetti,  son-in-law of far-right commentator William Kristol.  “Earth Island Institute is a Berkeley-based foundation focused on conservation efforts,”  said the Washington Free Beacon.  “It has contributed to leftist groups including the Sierra Club Foundation,  Tides Center,  and Rainforest Action Network.”

Earth Island Institute is in actuality not a foundation but a charity.  Structured as an incubator for animal and habitat protection projects,  many of which eventually spin off as independent charities,  Earth Island Institute was founded in 1986 by David Brower (1912-2000),  who had headed the Sierra Club from 1952 to 1969,  and in 1969 founded Friends of the Earth.  The Marine Mammal Project,  incorporating the Dolphin Project begun by Ric O’Barry in 1970,  is among 56 semi-autonomous organizations currently operating under the Earth Island Institute umbrella.

Earth Island’s version

Responded Earth Island Institute Marine Mammal Project director David Phillips in a prepared statement,  “In 2010 we reached agreement with Fanalei tribe and two other villages to stop killing dolphins in exchange for support for sustainability projects to help the villages.  A major portion of the funding we provided to Fanalei,  was misappropriated by a renegade group that lives in the Solomon Islands capital city of Honiara.  They have ignored all requests for accounting for the funds and undertaken a mass dolphin kill in the mistaken view that it would get them more funding.”

Continued Phillips,  “Dolphin traders stand to make millions by continuing the cruel capture and trade in live dolphins. Supporting the tribal slaughter gives them cover,  and provides a way to get villagers to capture dolphins for them.  Traffickers including Canadian citizen Christopher Porter and Solomon Islands resident Robert Satu,”  Phillips alleged,  “have a long history of bankrolling village captures of dolphins who sell for up to $150,000 to facilities in China,  Singapore,  Mexico,  and Dubai.  Now we have a mass dolphin kill while the lead dolphin trafficker,  Satu,  provides encouragement and wants to get in on it himself.  It is time to investigate whether he and others opposed to Earth Island’s dolphin protection efforts are funding the renegade group’s slaughter of dolphins.”

Said Satu on January 31,  2013 to Radio New Zealand,  “I agree with the Honiara Based Committee from Fanalei to continue harvesting.  And for me too,  I will tell my boys to do a collection.”

Added Phillips,  “Earth Island categorically rejects claims by Robert Satu that he was offered funding from the Marine Mammal Project for his captive dolphins.  We have never offered to buy dolphins from him or any other dolphin trafficker,  nor would we ever.  We believe the dolphin traffickers are responsible for cruelty,  and are a threat to dolphin survival.  They bring shame to the Solomon Islands.  We have repeatedly pressed for the Solomon Islands government to step in and stop their captures.

“Porter,  partner with Satu in Marine Exports Limited,  was reportedly in the Solomon Islands up until just before the dolphin slaughter began,  promoting a ‘Research Institute’ scheme,”  Phillips noted.  “His last scheme held captive dolphins for tourism and export.”

Christopher Porter

Employed by Sealand of the Pacific,  in Victoria,  British Columbia,  1989-1993,  Porter moved to the Vancouver Aquarium in 1994,  after Sealand closed,  and then to the Aquario di Genova in Italy.  He and Satu incorporated Marine Exports Limited in 2002 to broker dolphins captured in the Solomons.

“None of the recent dolphins were collected for keeping alive,”  Porter told ANIMAL PEOPLE.  “All the dolphins were part of a regular annual hunt of dolphins for their teeth and meat.  The agreement done by Ric O’Barry and Earth Island was never concluded in a fashion that was sustainable.  The village returned to hunting.”

Porter and Satu captured about 220 dolphins in the Solomons through 2007,  83 of whom were eventually sold to resorts in Dubai and Cancun,  Mexico.  Pending sale,  the dolphins were kept in heavily guarded sea pens at Fanalei.

Porter in March 2010 told Judith Lavoie of the Victoria Times Colonist that he had decided to return the last 17 dolphins to the wild,  influenced by the February 2009 killing of trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando by Tilikum,  an orca Porter trained at Sealand of the Pacific.  Tilikum and two other Sealand orcas in 1991 killed trainer Keltie Byrne,  20.   Tilikum was also involved in the 1999 death of a man who sneaked into SeaWorld Orlando after hours.

“Tilikum and other animals showed me the pointlessness of captivity,”  Porter told ANIMAL PEOPLE.  “I envision a future where people spend more time in the oceans than aquariums.  I am dedicating my life to offering solutions for the dolphins that work,  launching a program shortly here in Canada that partners with the indigenous Orca People of the Pacific Northwest and the Dolphin People of the Solomons.” Returned O’Barry,  “Regarding Porter:  leopards don’t change their spots.”

Porter is not known to have sold dolphins since 2007,  but Marine Exports Limited has pursued compensation from the Solomon Islands Ministry of Fisheries for not selling dolphins.  In January 2012,  wrote Solomon Star News court reporter Assumpta Buchanan, the Solomon Islands High Court ordered the Ministry of Fisheries to pay Marine Exports Limited more than $140,000.

Explained Buchanan,  “In January 2005 the cabinet decided to effectively ban export of any live dolphins from Solomon Islands.  In June 2005,”  however,  Marine Exports Limited “executed a contract with Wildlife International Network Inc. of Orlando, Florida,”  which was to buy 25 bottlenose dolphins from Marine Exports Limited.

Denied an export permit,  Marine Exports Limited won a default judgement against the Ministry of Fisheries in 2006.  The policy against dolphin exports was rescinded for a time,  allowing Marine Exports Limited to sell 28 dolphins to Dubai in 2007,  but was reinstated in 2012.

Satu in September 2012 “expressed concern over people allegedly catching dolphin at Kolombangara,  Western Province,” wrote Solomon Star News reporter Elliot Dawea.  Director of Fisheries James Terry said they were not aware of dolphin catches at Kolombangnara.  The Solomon Star News contacted yesterday some residents of Kolombangara but they denied such activity.”

But 10 dolphins had been captured,  of whom three died from alleged dehydration and starvation during the next three weeks.

Demanded housing

“We kept these dolphins with the idea of developing our very own tourism site,”  said Jacob Mate,  spokesperson for the captors.  “We want a total of 12 permanent houses and $42,000 for this potential tourism project that we are just about to give away.”

Threatened with arrest,  Mate reduced his demand.  “Having spent too much money and time looking after these dolphins,” Mate said,  “we want Earth Island Institute or any other organization that wishes to have our dolphins released to compensate us $20,000.”

When the police did not move to make arrests,  Earth Island Institute regional director Lawrence Makili paid $1,400 U.S. to secure the release of the surviving dolphins.

“Whoever captures or kills dolphins will be ordered to release them,”  Western Province premier George Solingi Lilo declared on October 9,  2012,  seeking to avoid repetition of the incident.  “If they refuse to do so and demand compensation,”  Lilo told Jeremy Inifiri of Solomon Star News,  “they will then be prosecuted.”

But no one was prosecuted when just a week later seven dolphins were netted at the mouth of the Lunga river mouth by persons not named in media accounts.  Honiara cafe owner Francis Chow bought five of the dolphins,  the Solomon Star News reported;  two died.

While Fanalei villagers resumed killing dolphins,  “The two other villages,  Bita’ama and Walende,  continue to work cooperatively with the Marine Mammal Project,”  Phillips said,  and “oppose any resumption of the killing of dolphins.”

Mate’s demand for housing as part of his initial ransom request appeared to derive from the success of the Safe Dolphin Housing Project,  sponsored by Earth Island Institute at Bita’ama.  Fanalei and Walande “prefer cash assistance,  which led to disagreements,”  wrote Ednal R. Palmer of the Solomon Star News,  but “Bita’ama selected a project that will see the community benefit.  Some homes have already been completed.  Committee director Emanuel Tigi said the community is anxious to see the project successful.

“There’s no way we will breach this cordial agreement we have with Earth Island Institute.  People are very happy with the benefits,”  Tigi told Palmer.

––Merritt Clifton

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