By Lloyd Jones

PORT MORESBY, Nov 17 AAO-The Solomons government will tomorrow entrench into law its ban on live dolphin exports after giving reassurances a reported plan to ship out 40 animals this week was never on the cards. The New Zealand and Australian governments sought assurances the ban was still in place after the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) said two charter flights had been arranged to ship dolphins to the Bahamas. No shipment took place and the Solomons government said it would not have approved such an export by the privately-run Solomon Islands Marine Mammal Education Centre (SIMMEC). Fisheries Secretary Tione Bugotu has confirmed the Cabinet’s decision to ban live dolphin exports would be gazetted into law tomorrow. In July, 2004, SIMMEC exported 28 Bottlenose dolphins to an aquatic park in Mexico sparking international outrage and prompting the Australian and New Zealand governments to urge the Solomons to ban live dolphin exports. WSPA said SIMMEC was holding around 30 wild-captured dolphins at its Gavetu Island dolphin park and operator Canadian Chris Porter was attempting to sell them overseas despite a Solomons government ban imposed in January. Mark Berman of the US-based environment group The Earth Island Institute was in the Solomons capital Honiara this week talking to government officials about the dolphin export ban and plans to export tuna with a “dolphin safe” label. Mr Berman said today that the Solomons government had to be congratulated on its maintenance of the ban and WSPA’s reports of a planned shipment were without foundation. The government and the local tuna industry which employed more than 3,000 people wanted to export lucrative tuna not dolphins, he said. “They now see this dolphin trade is a huge headache and a bad publicity situation for the Solomons.” The Earth Island Institute hoped the government would review Porter’s “dolphin prison” and order the release of the animals into the wild after proper rehabilitation, Berman said. The institute believed six had died in recent months and seven stressed dolphins had been let go without any rehabilitation which was highly irresponsible, he said. The ecotourism Porter had promised was not happening and his activities proved he was just a dealer in dolphins and in it for the money, Berman said. “They are a national treasure of the Solomons. They don’t belong to Chris Porter to sell for $US30,000 to $US50,000 a piece.” The Solomons government was interested in seeing wild whale and dolphin watching tourist ventures and that was a better option than dolphin prisons, Berman said. Porter, who is in the Dominican Republic, said this week there was much misinformation in the dolphin shipment claims and he had referred the matter to a publicist. He disputed a claim by New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter that if live dolphin exports occurred the European Union would ban tuna exports from the Solomons to Europe. AAP ldj/jt/jlw

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