Environmental Concerns Action Network Of Solomon Islands


ECANSI (Environmental Concerns Action Network of Solomon Islands) wishes to place on record the deep concern of this organization over the Report of a Fact-finding visit to the Solomon Islands, 9-12 September, 2003 by Drs Graham Ross and Frances Gulland on behalf of the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group and the IUCN/SSC Veterinary Specialist Group.

It is the intention of ECANSI to go through the IUCN report on a point by point basis, refuting statements made. The report contains serious inaccuracies, scientifically inappropriate and invalid conclusions and relies exclusively on statements by the dolphin traders which are not supported by any evidence. The possibility and likelihood of high mortality in the dolphin captures has been completely ignored.

In stark contrast to this reliance on the dolphin traders’ information, advice and research gathered by ECANSI over several months has been considered irrelevant. ECANSI arranged and accompanied the IUCN team on their visit to the Gavutu seapen. The report of the ECANSI staff person is in complete contradiction to the details in the IUCN report relating to Gavutu. Our staff person, Ronnie Butala, has regularly visited Gavutu seapen and documented the changes and health of these dolphins since the beginning of August, 2003.

The IUCN report has been widely circulated and ECANSI requests that our response be given similar circulation.

  1. We note that the paper’s authors include Nick Gales, Robert Brownell and Randall Reeves. None of these people were present on the fact finding visit.
  2. The fact finding visit to Gavutu and Honiara seapens took place over two days, and included one short visit only to both pens. ECANSI regards these inspections as inadequate and regards any conclusions drawn as inappropriate.
  3. ECANSI is surprised to learn that Dr Graham Ross has a long association with the captive industry and certain veterinarians who work exclusively for captive facilities.
  4. Dr Ross, according to the IUCN report managed the Port Elizabeth Oceanarium in South Africa for several years. ECANSI is aware that 33 dolphins have died at the Port Elizabeth Oceanarium, 16 of those dying during or shortly after capture. In spite of protest and a continuing high mortality rate, the Port Elizabeth Oceanarium continued to capture wild dolphins.
  5. ECANSI believes that Dr Ross is too closely associated with the captive industry to be regarded as an independent and objective IUCN team member on this issue.
  6. ECANSI has been unable to establish how Dr Gulland or Dr Ross could ascertain the health of the captive dolphins and the status of their living conditions without performing a single blood test or sampling the sea pen waters.
  7. The IUCN report notes that “ there was little infrastructure within the Solomon Islands for laboratory testing, storage or shipping of biological samples.”
  8. There is a fully functioning laboratory in Honiara, the Solomon Islands Medical Training and Research Institute (SIMTRI). This laboratory is capable of carrying out comprehensive tests on water quality and blood samples from dolphins.
  9. ECANSI finds it surprising that the team had not made prior arrangements to enable laboratory testing, storage and/or shipping of biological samples.
  10. Since there are, apparently, no records of any blood or water tests being carried out on these dolphins at any time, ECANSI suggests that any judgement relating to the health of dolphins or the quality of the seapen waters made by the IUCN team has no scientific validity.
  11. Dolphin experts from Australia and the US say that the health of the dolphins at Gavutu and Honiara can only be established by various blood tests carried out on each individual. The living conditions of these dolphins can only be assessed by water quality tests; faeces collection and the witnessing of tide flows over a relevant period in order to establish proper drainage of the two sea pens. Log books should provide detailed information and evidence of the dolphins’diet, source of food, vitamin and antibiotic intake.
  12. (l) To determine numbers and species of dolphins currently held in captivity (eg. Sea pens) in the Solomon Islands.

    The details contained in the IUCN report do not match the numbers gathered by ECANSI which are as follows:-

    Ronnie Butala from ECANSI visited the Gavutu Dolphin centre on three occasions.

    • 2nd August, 2003, the team observed 41 dolphins. Two Pantropical spotted dolphins, one calf and 38 Pacific Bottlenose dolphins. The visiting team comprised government officials, NGO and ECANSI representatives, members of the public, SIMMEC person, dolphin trainer Mike Schultz.
    • 16th August, 2003, accompanied Channel 9 TV Australia to Gavutu seapen.

      Dolphin population in seapen had reduced to 35 dolphins and calf. When Basil, in charge of the facility, was asked what had happened to the missing dolphins, he denied their existence.

    • 10th September, 2003 ECANSI accompanied and guided the IUCN team. Later, the team reported that they counted 24 dolphins. A reduction of 12 dolphins since the visit on 16th August.
  13. Nerida King ( Officer of the Australian High Commissioner) reported counting 39 bottlenose dolphins and two pantropical spotted dolphins at the Gavutu facility on 2nd August, 2003;

    Response: In a report of a phone conversation which took place on 6th August, with Nerida King provided by an Australian conservation organization, Ms King said that she "knew nothing about dolphins in captivity". ECANSI doubts that Ms King has the expertise to identify the species of dolphins in the Gavutu facility as cited in the report. Further on in the IUCN report ECANSI notes that "the species identification of two dolphins is still uncertain."

  14. The timing and reasons for the releases are unknown. Mike Schultz stated that, in general, captured males were being released as they were considered unsuitable for long-term captivity and training.

    Response: There is no evidence to support this statement. The IUCN team failed to report on methods of release; follow up; status of health of released dolphins; dietary problems etc. It is most likely that the dolphins died but this possibility curiously, has not been canvassed by the report.

  15. Two deaths during the period of June-September 2003 were reported. One animal reportedly died from an intestinal infection, and Hammond suggested that it had been diseased prior to collection. The cause of death of the second dolphin was not determined.

    Response: One dolphin died of intestinal infection and one was taken by a crocodile widely reported in the media. Anecdotal evidence by villagers, fishermen and others indicates a much higher mortality.

  16. Staff reported having moved four dolphins from Honiara to Gavutu prior to our arrival at Honiara on 11 September, during the morning calm weather. SIMMEC indicated their intention to move all of the remaining animals at Honiara to Gavutu, where more pens were expected to be constructed. The Honiara facility would then be closed down.

    Response: Again, there is no evidence to support the claim that four dolphins were moved. The waters in the sea pen have a history of heavy pollution . ECANSI Director, Mr Gabriel Suri, informed the IUCN team prior to their inspection, that the Honiara pen was heavily contaminated with sewage and oil leaks. He briefed them on a report carried out by Honiara Town Council health officials on ll th May, l999. This document states that e.coli and coliform counts were very high. The test had been done in 4 different zones in and around Honiara City. Honiara City Chief Health Inspector Mr Tom Nanau has stated that the sea pen is just 50 metres away from the main Honiara sewage outlet.

  17. The single male Pantropical spotted dolphin being held with the bottlenose dolphins at Gavutu was said to have been the only surviving animal of 417 that were taken at the Malaitian village of Fanelei in a traditional drive hunt in April 2003. SIMMEC chartered the M/V Lalae to retrieve this animal from the village, with the intention of returning it to the wild once the weather cleared and a pod of the same species located.

    Response: It is of considerable concern that the report reaches such a conclusion in relation to SIMMEC without a shred of evidence to support their claimed intention of rescuing the dolphin and returning it to the wild.

    This claimed dolphin rescue by SIMMEC is quite incorrect. SIMMEC had an agreement with the people of Fanalei who were contracted by SIMMEC to catch dolphins for SI$4000.00 each. (The fact that huge sums of money were being offered by SIMMEC is common knowledge in the Solomons and provided a steep incentive for many captures of dolphins. The money offered represents approximately half a year’s wages for a fisherman.)

    It is correct that the traditional drive hunt caught 417 dolphins as quoted in the report.

    SIMMEC then chartered M/V Lalae to take dolphins from Fanelei village to Gavutu.

    They could only load 11 dolphins, the boat was unable to carry more animals.

    9 dolphins died on that journey. Either dying on the way during the rough 6 hour boat ride from Fanalei to Gavutu or on arrival at the Gavutu sea pen. These facts are reported by a respected chief of the Fanalei people.

    After the loss of these dolphins, SIMMEC engaged Robert Satu, a well known fisherman in Honiara who does semi commercial fishing. Satu and Schulz caught dolphins between Central and Guadalcanal waters using large nets. The Guadacanal Provincial Govenrment had never been approached by SIMMEC to net dolphins in their waters; nor did SIMMEC have a licence to fish in the Guadalcanal waters. The Guadacanal Province regards these actions as serious breaches of provincial law.

    No Eco Tourism Centre at Gavutu

    SIMMEC was licenced by the Foreign Investment Board (FIB) to set up an eco tourist activity on Gavuta which included the building of bungalows. There is no development taking place. According to the approved licence, operation should have commenced within one month of approval. Instead, SIMMEC and its sister company, Marine Exports Ltd have focused entirely on dolphin exploitation and export.

    Violations of Solomon Islands Legislation.

    Both SIMMEC and Marine Exports Ltd are in violation of Solomon Islands law on a number of counts. ECANSI notes that the IUCN team completely failed to establish the legality of the dolphin trade and the holding pens.

    The Honiara City Council has not issued any business licence in respect of keeping dolphins at the Honiara pen. The keeping of dolphins in that area is a nuisance in terms of the Environmental health Act because the dolphins could suffer illness from the contaminated sea. Infected dolphins could then pass on viruses or bacteria harmful to the public in Honiara.

    Local fishermen who supply Marine Exports Ltd and SIMMEC with dolphins may not have had licences to hunt dolphin commercially in Guadalcanal Provincial waters or Honiara City Council sea.

  18. Obtain information about the circumstances surrounding captures ( e.g. where, how and when) with a view to assessing, at least qualitatively, the potential impacts ( e.g. hidden mortality and injury associated with the capture operations).

    The dolphins captured in Honiara were taken in seine nets set from a small boat, from which individual dolphins were removed by hand and placed on wet mattresses in a motorboat. Robert Satu and Mike Schultz of SIMMEC managed the capture and selection of the dolphins, based in part on sex and/or age…. It is likely that about 100 dolphins have been caught thus far. Neither Satu nor Schulz reported any mortality associated with the capture operations when asked. Schultz attributed this to the fact that the animals had been captured in water less than 4 m deep and with nets of small mesh size.

    Response: There is no evidence to support any of the statements made by Satu and Schultz. Further, it is most unlikely that 100 plus animals were trapped without injury or that all these traumatised dolphins survived a four hour journey to Gavutu. Satu has on other occasions told journalists and others that he "calls in the dolphins" who "swim in to his nets".

    The IUCN report completely ignores the large sums of money offered to local fishermen to catch dolphins and the fact that large numbers of local fishermen took advantage of the offer and caught dolphins. Without any experience in catching live dolphins, it is likely that many suffered injuries and mortality. It is obvious that if Satu was true about his magic to call dolphin why would he have hired people to catch dolphins for him?

    If the guestimate of 100 dolphins being caught is correct, then according to the report’s own figures, more than one quarter of the captured dolphins are either missing or dead.

    The Australian Government has constantly asserted that there were 170 dolphins held in sea pens. If this estimate is correct, then the mortality rate has been extremely high and completely unacceptable by any standards.

    The Honiara sea pen was not constructed or used until July, prior to the export to Mexico when the dolphins were brought across from Gavutu.

  19. (5) Ascertain plans for further exports - how many dolphins, to what countries, and institutions.

    The export permit held by Chris Porter is valid until May 2004 and is for l00 dolphins.

    Response: The IUCN report does not table a copy of the export permit. This is a critical document. Further, an Australian television crew from Channel 9 Australia ascertained that there was no formal export permit, only a hand written form and that this document indicated the permit had expired months earlier.

    Excerpt from A Current Affair.

    Reporter David Margin, speaking to SI Minister for Fisheries, Nelson Kile. The Permit to export was not issued on proper forms, but quickly drafted on blank piece of paper.. There it clearly states export permit expired in December, last year.. the export of dolphins in July this year, was clearly illegal And the.. US$500 export levy from each dolphin, money to be used for research into this business has never been collected.

    Kile: My officers said that the export was legal... That's why I said OK.

    There is no evidence of the Export Permit and the Department of Fisheries has refused to disclose this permit. Further, the purported permit was issued to Marine Exports Ltd, not Chris Porter according to Fisheries officials. Again, IUCN team makes statements without any supporting evidence.

    It would have been prudent for IUCN team to ascertain whether the permit was issued pursuant to the requirements of CITIES. The Director of Department of Environment, Moses Biliki, has declared to ECANSI that the necessary permit was issued by him pursuant to the CITIES. The Wildlife Act and Environment Act have not come into commencement and so ECANSI is of the opinion that the Director of Department of Environment would not have the necessary legal powers to issue any permit.

  20. (6) Assess the health and living conditions of the dolphins currently in captivity in the Solomon Islands.

    It was not possible to capture and restrain the animals for blood sampling and further clinical assessment ding the site visit, nor was this the purpose of the trip.

    Response: ECANSI notes that we cannot find a single dolphin expert who would be willing to state that wild caught dolphins captured in these circumstances are healthy without relevant blood samples and water tests. ECANSI notes also that in the report ( p.5) it states that This inner pool ( at Gavutu) is used for beaching dolphins for medical examinations. Therefore, it would have been possible with proper arrangements made to take the relevant samples.

    ECANSI wonders how the team expected to assess the health of the dolphins without proper testing. What was the purpose of the trip ?

  21. (6) The water flow through the pens was high due to wave and wind action, the water appeared clear and no faecal material was observed in the pens.

    Response: The weather was bad that day. According to Ronnie Butala, the team was at Gavutu for one hour. ECANSI notes that without water samples the conclusions of the report are meaningless. Because of the brevity of the IUCN team visit, it was simply not possible to make such generalities given the lack of knowledge of water flow and tidal changes. The fact that no faecal material was observed does not indicate that there’s not a problem with dispersement of this material. Further, without an underwater inspection, and proper testing, water quality could not be determined by such a superficial and brief observation.

    ECANSI has obtained a copy of the United States Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Marine Mammal Water Quality Standards which are mandatory in that country.

    These standards include criteria for testing and maintaining water quality which include the necessity of evaluating :-

    • coliform count
    • filtration and water flow
    • salinity for salt water animals

    The standards insist that weekly water tests must be conducted for coliform counts and instructions of protocol of the coliform count exceed l,000 MPN per l00 ml. The protocol is quite specific in terms of method of collection, non acceptable tests, where water samples should be taken, techniques for collecting and storage of water.

    Further, the standards have Inspection Procedures which call for the careful verification of the validity of records. Records must include but are not limited to:-

    • all recordings in the same ink or handwriting
    • no change in readings
    • results posted on the same date and time
    • where samples are taken
    • how deep are samples taken
    • what time of day are samples taken
    • where is testing done, ie in house, sent to lab
    • if samples sent out, is lab qualified to test samples
    • how soon after collection are samples tested
    • what is the storage method of these samples

    The IUCN team’s conclusions on the basis of a one hour visit in the light of the US standards are misleading and not scientifically based.

  22. (6) There are no significant human settlements or sewage outlets in the vicinity of the Gavutu facility.

    Response: Gavutu is surrounded by Small Island. These small islands have large human populations who use the sea as a toilet. It is more than likely that the sea pen is contaminated by sewage given the direct of the sea current.

    As well, the Director of ECANSI indicated to IUCN team that Gavutu Island was used as a naval base in World War II is covered with relics. Mr Suri believes there is strong possibility of contamination as many old and rusted tanks and iron cover some 80 per cent of the island. Heavy metals leach into the sea when it rains.

  23. (6) All of the animals observed appeared to be in good body condition within normal weight ranges for this species... At Gavutu, most of the dolphins rested at the surface like floating logs, a behaviour termed logging, until they were fed when they became extremely active.

    Response: How did the IUCN team establish that the animals were in good body condition within normal weight ranges for this species. Which species ? How were the weights established visually? Similarly where are the details of observed respiratory rates for each animal? What are the "normal weight ranges"?

  24. (7) Determine how the captive dolphins are being provisioned, and specifically find out the extent to which destructive fishing practices ( e.g. reef dynamiting) are being employed.

    Animals are fed up to 8 kg of fish per day ( approximately the amount required to meet daily calorific needs) in a number of feeds, depending on the training schedule.

    Response: 24 dolphins would therefore require 192 kgs of fish per day or 1344 kgs of fish per week. It is unclear from the report how often dolphins are fed 8 kgs of fish per day as the wording appears to indicate that the diet may be less depending on the training schedule.

    Ronnie Butala from ECANSI who took the IUCN team to Gavutu was informed by the team after visiting Gavutu sea pen that the dolphins were very hungry, and may not have enough food to eat. The dolphins were fighting for the fish fed to them.

  25. There are 22 staff at the Gavutu facility.

    Response: This statement would indicate that there are qualified "staff" at Gavutu. This is not correct, they are local villagers. Basil, the accountant,is charged with the day to day responsibility for dolphins, and has no qualifications in dolphin husbandry.

  26. Local fish are caught in Honiara by fishermen at the local fishing village or directly by the staff.

    ECANSI does not believe it would be possible for local fishermen to catch and supply this amount of fish on a regular basis.

  27. In Gavutu, some local fishermen catch fish by using dynamite. Mike Schultz (SIMMEC) stated categorically that he does not buy fish from fishermen who say they have used dynamite to collect fish. Ronnie Butala, from the NGO ECANSI ( which is interested in environment and conservation) introduced the team on l0 September to a local fisherman in Tulaghi who accompanied it to three sites that he had dynamited to collect fish. These sites were coral reefs with patches of broken and discoloured coral. The fisherman said that he had not sold these fish to the Gavutu facility.

    Response: This statement in the report is in direct contradiction to the facts. Ronnie Butala interpreted the Solomon Island pidgin dialect for the IUCN team at Tulaghi. The local fisherman took the team and Ronnie to the coast where dynamiting had taken place. The local fishermen said We use dynamite to catch fish and then sell these fish to SIMMEC. Peter Tabo, the reef tour leader said that dynamiting had been going on for some time. He confirmed that village people were dynamiting for fish to sell to SIMMEC for the Gavutu dolphins. Last month, one person died while using dynamite to kill fish. However, dynamiting has stopped recently due to fear of being arrested by the interventionist forces.

    It is likely that many dolphins have died of starvation because of the lack of fish.

    ECANSI notes that there are no details of what species of fish are being fed to the dolphins.

  28. Fish are stored in a cold storage box and freezers for which there are generators. The fish storage containers were clean and well maintained.

    Response: Ronnie Butala states that the team informed him they did not look at the daily log book, nor visit the fish storage or inspect the storage facility. They said they forgot to ask about them.

  29. The team was informed that SIMMEC intends to utilize frozen pilchards from Australia.

    Response: Given earlier eyewitness accounts of dolphins with distended stomachs arching upright in the water,( caused by intestinal gas as a result of dietary changes) the possibility that the animals will have their diet switched to frozen fish is likely to cause further trauma. There is no evidence to support the statement that SIMMEC intends to purchase frozen pilchards from Australia . ECANSI believes frozen pilchards from Australia would not provide proper nutrition to the captured dolphins.

  30. On 11th September, 2003, 17 dolphins were observed at the Honiara facility.

    Response: The feeding regime of these dolphins has been ignored in the report. Assuming that these dolphins are fed 8 kgs of fish per day, 136 kgs of fish per day would be required, or 952 kgs per week. Combined with the requirements of the Gavutu dolphins, SIMMEC would have to acquire 2,296 kgs of fish per week. ECANSI believes that obtaining this amount of fish on a regular weekly basis is an impossible task.

    The report does not indicate whether there are storage facilities at Honiara, log books, or any proper facilities for feeding the dolphins.

    In summary, it is clear that there is no supporting evidence to demonstrate that the dolphins are fed regularly or adequately. This lack of evidence is of great concern as ECANSI inspections have constantly noted that the dolphins are very hungry.

    The failure of the IUCN team to adequately assess the proper feeding of the dolphins is a major flaw in the report.

    Relevant Statements made by Dr Frances Gulland in an email to Mr Gabriel Suri, Director of ECANSI dated 19th October, 2003.

    "As far as assessing health, you are absolutely right - by simply looking at an animal one cannot declare it healthy. Blood tests are needed to look at celular (sic) changes and presence of infectious agents. All I can say is the dolphins were not thin, and that their skin appeared in good condition with no obvious sunburn.

    "Obviously, all the information Graham and I collected in the very short visit we made can only be as a result of what we saw and who we talked to. Thus we are reporting what we observed and were told, but cannot pass judgement on who was likely to be giving us false information. This of course leaves a number of possibilities open as to the reasons for the changing numbers of dolphins."

SUMMARY. In the light of the inherent judgements and conclusions drawn in the IUCN team document, ECANSI believes that the only valid opinion which can be expressed by the IUCN team is as follows:-

  • No blood tests or swabs were taken from any dolphins.
  • No water tests were carried out in either sea pen.
  • No tests of any kind were undertaken to establish health of dolphins
  • No satisfactory evidence was obtained of proper feeding and adequate nutrition.
  • No explanation for the missing numbers of dolphins.
  • No information on whether any of the female captive dolphins are pregnant.
  • No satisfactory evidence of numbers captured.
  • Relevant evidence given by ECANSI has been ignored.
  • Evidence given by dolphin traders has been accepted.
  • 24 dolphins were observed at the Gavutu sea pen.
  • 17 dolphins were observed at the Honiara seapen.

ECANSI notes that IUCN/SSC Conservation Action Plan for the World’s Cetaceans refers to the role of the live-capture industry in the array of threats facing cetaceans. The Plan states ( p.l7) : As a general principle dolphins should not be captured or removed from a wild population unless that specific population has been assessed and it has been determined that a certain amount of culling can be allowed without reducing the population’s long term viability or compromising its role in the ecosystem." Such assessments and determinations cannot be accomplished simply by a stroke of the pen but require a serious investment of resources and time. As explained in the Action Plan - Responsible operators ( at both the capturing end and receiving end ) must show a willingness to invest substantial resources in assuring that proposed removals are ecologically sustainable."

Final Note: ECANSI has learned that the Honiara sea pen has been dismantled recently and that the 17 dolphins were moved to the Gavutu sea pen.

This means there are now 41 dolphins in the Gavutu pen, creating an extremely overcrowded situation. The increased numbers mean much higher levels of faeces and waste, and the possibility of infection. Given the lack of any substantive evidence indicating proper feeding of any of these dolphins; no doubt there will be more fighting in the pens; more injuries and mortality.

Yours Faithfully,

Mr. Gabriel Suri
ECANSI Director

28th October, 2003

( ECANSI - pronounced "Eye Can See" )

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