Solomon Islands exports live dolphins to Dubai

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The Independent Online

The Solomon Islands will export 28 live dolphins to Dubai, it was confirmed yesterday, four years after a similar shipment to Mexico sparked an international outcry.

The mammals were to be removed from their pens at Gavutu Island near the capital, Honiara, and loaded on to two DC-10 aircraft, said Robert Satu, director of Solomon Islands Marine Mammal Education Center and Exporters Ltd.

Security was tight at Henderson Field airport near Honiara to keep away photographers and camera crews and to prevent protesters from disrupting the loading process ahead of the 30-hour flight to Dubai, Mr Satu said.

He would not reveal who was importing the dolphins in Dubai or the price paid, although the government said each dolphin could be worth thousands of pounds.

The Solomon Islands banned the live dolphin export trade in 2003 after an the outcry over a consignment of 28 bottlenose dolphins sent to an aquatic park in Mexico.

But Mr Satu, who was involved in the exports to Mexico, claimed the ban was illegal and won a court ruling earlier this year allowing exports to resume. The government was subsequently swift to change its position on the trade.

Animal welfare groups say the trade is harmful for the animals involved. At least nine of the dolphins sent to Mexico died, according to the Earth Islands Institute in San Francisco.

In June, the institute joined several other international conservation groups in criticising the government's decision to resume the trade.

In August, the Fisheries Minister, Nollen Leni, said the government would encourage the capture and sale of up to 100 dolphins a year for the "lucrative" live trade. He noted that water parks were prepared to pay tens of thousands of pounds for a trained dolphin and said he would lead a government delegation to Dubai next month to seek more buyers.

A court injunction filed by the Earth Island Institute's Pacific director, Lawrence Makili, failed yesterday when a judge rejected the conservation group's bid to stop the exports.

Mr Makili said alerts would be sent to tuna buyers across the globe to boycott Solomons' tuna if the dolphin shipment proceeds. "This government has a no-care attitude. They don't see the long-term negative impact of what they are doing," he said.

Michelle Lam-Legu, a director of the Environmental Concerns Action Network of Solomon Islands, said a group member would travel with the dolphins to Dubai to check their health and living conditions in the Middle East. "I expect there to be concern, outrage," at the exports, she told New Zealand's National Radio.

Mr Satu declined to discuss the treatment to be given to the animals in Dubai or other matters around the export programme, but insisted the animals would receive "great care" during transit.

The Solomons has a population of 480,000 and lies 2,400 miles north-east of New Zealand. The Queen is head of state.