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Film crews unwelcome, Solomons elders say

By Ednal Palmer HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, April 6, 2010) – In the Solomon Islands, twelve village elders and representatives in north Malaita have signed a petition to shut off foreign dolphin activists from filming in their areas.

The representatives were reportedly furious with dolphin trader Chris Potter who they claimed had betrayed them.

They claimed that Mr. Potter had switched over to join international dolphin activists who will turn against their culture and tradition in relation to dolphin harvesting.

In their open letter addressed to the Prime Minister, Opposition leader and Immigration director, they said the group must be denied from filming and deported immediately.

"We the representatives of the Dolphin catching/harvesting communities of Malaita and our Members of the National Parliament wish to advice Mr. Chris Potter (Canada) Ric O’Berry (USA), Mark Berman (USA) and their film crew under the following animal activist auspices of Earth Island Institute, One Voice France, Animal Welfare Institute, The dolphin project and Save Japan dolphins that you are not wanted or welcomed in any of our communities."

They claimed that Mr. Potter who has benefitted over the years from the dolphin exports from Solomon Islands has had benefitted handsomely from the dolphin harvesting communities of Malaita.

"However, recently Mr. Potter has teamed up with Mark Berman and Ric O’berry and has voiced in the media of North America, Australia and here in the Solomon Islands, the agenda and stance of the anti dolphin campaigners.

"This is a clear indication of Mr. Potter becoming an activist himself and a total betrayal of our people and our culture."

They said dolphin harvesting, drive, consumption and use are the culture and tradition of people in their communities for centuries.

"These are the very same people and organizations who have been campaigning against the dolphin drive and harvesting in Taiji, Japan and Malaita Solomon Islands.

"To have Mr. Potter bring them to our door steps is unacceptable. People in all our communities have been advised to be vigilant against these groups and stop them filming our culture and tradition.

The intentions and agenda of these groups are different. Their catch word is "Stop Killing Dolphins".

They claimed that the documentary titled "The Cove" filmed in Taiji, Japan, is a classical example where these groups, led by Ric O’Berry, lied to Japanese police and authorities by wearing face masks and in the dark with wire and bolt cutters cut fences and trespassed into private properties.

"Is this an "Oscar" winning documentary? This is a clear indication of criminal and terrorist behavior?" The group claimed in the agreed letter.

"The media assassination of the Taiji people and their culture has caused immense damage and has labeled the Taiji people as barbaric, heartless killers and devil doers.

"This is a culture that is similar to the culture of the dolphin harvesting communities of Malaita. Like the people of Taiji, our culture has thrived for centuries. If these activists can do it to the Taiji people, how much more can they do it to us? They are a direct threat to our people and culture."

They claimed that Mr. O’Berry have travelled to a lot of countries doing the same thing and not respecting the culture and tradition of the people.

"This is no doubt an opportunity to use the information they get here against our own people and culture.

"We challenge Chris Potter, Mark Berman and Ric OBerry to go and film the 60,000 plus dolphins that is killed annually in the Eastern Pacific by the American Tuna Fisheries in their drift netting or annual clubbing (killing) of the half a million seals in Canada.

These people are a threat to our culture, tradition, heritage and security. We call upon Our Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition, Our National leaders and director of immigration to have these people and their filmed crew denied and deported.

However, Regional Director of Earth Island Institute Lawrence Makili in response to the claims and accusations said the claims were baseless and driven by individuals with interest on the issue.

"The claims made against Mr. O’Berry are a desperate attempt to gain support from certain people, but they are baseless.

"These community representatives were brainwashed by individuals who have vested interest in the dolphin trade issue.

"They want to use these community leaders by asking for their signatures without showing them the content of the letter," Mr. Makili said.

He said the claim that 60,000 dolphins are killed annually by the American Tuna Fisheries is misleading as well because the USA fleets are working in association with Tuna industries and their licenses will be revoked if caught.

He said Mark Berman and Ric O’Berry from Earth Island Institute work closely and have a safe dolphin program with the National Fisheries Development (NFD), Tri-Marine and Soltai in the Solomon Islands.

"So any visit by the Earth Island here is significant as we are guest to the organizations and we are working closely with them.

The local environmental campaigner said the two men are here purposely to discuss with Mr. Potter his proposed release of seven dolphins.

"Mr. O’Berry is an Oscar winner and he has his own camera man.

"His Camera man is not the film crew claimed by those community representatives."

Mr. Makili claimed that a local animal vet Dr. Badley Anita is behind the move to taint the visitors who are working tirelessly to save dolphins.

"Dr Anita is working closely with Ocean Embassy who are dolphin buyers. Ocean Embassy assisted him with the dolphin facility he set up at Bungana in Gela.

"One of the community elder who signed Emanuel Agata of Bita’ama told us that Dr. Anita asked him to sign without producing the content of the letter.

"I have seen some visiting members of the Ocean Embassy meeting the Fisheries Minister Nollen Leni at the Mendana Hotel last week.

"I am not sure what they discussed but hope it is not another deal of self interest and gain on our innocent and friendly mammals."

Mr. Makili appealed to the Prime Minister to remove the fisheries minister, who with association with environment minister met with the Ocean Embassy people.

"What will the dolphin trade bring to Solomon Islanders?

"Two tuna companies are prepared to set up factories here where thousands of workers will be employed bringing in huge benefit to the people at large.

"This two want to involve in this trade where only they themselves will benefit.

"The factories will never be established unless Solomon Islands deal with the dolphin issue because at the end of the day Earth Island Institute is the only body to certify their products for international markets.

"What more does the government want – prioritize people who are the majority or just few greedy people through this dolphin trade."

Attempts to talk to Dr. Anita and Mr. Leni yesterday were unsuccessful.

The twelve signatories to the letter were: Chief Winston Suri (Tae/Sulufou), George Ashley Kaluae (Adagege), Badley Talofunu Anita (Ona/Adagege), Pastor Alwin Wako (Funafou), Emmanuel Agata Tigi (Bita’ama), Hon Issac Inoke (Authority for Bita’ama), Robert Bifula (Manaere,Taeloa), Pastor Douglas Fakaia (Fanalei), Fr. Devine Kabau (Walande), Hon Enele Kwanairara (Tobaita) and Peter Fairamoa (Authority for Bita’ama).

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