The village of Lamalera on the island of Lembata in Flores has long been known as a site of traditional whale hunting, though in recent years it has gained notoriety for its practices. Traditionally, villagers would hunt large sea species, including whales, manta rays and sometimes dolphins to provide food and a living for the entire village. The hunts were conducted using simple sailboats, with fishermen following ancient beliefs, taboos and traditions. Within their cultural practices an innate understanding of fishing for subsistence regulated the number of animals captured, and taboos included prohibitions on hunting pregnant, mating, or young whales.
Under the International Whaling Commission (IWC) the village is exempt from a whaling ban, as their practices are supposedly conducted in a traditional manner for subsistence. In reality, what is happening today is far from “tradition.” With a hunting season extending from May to the end of October, motorized boats are now commonly used to catch dolphins and other toothed whales, sea turtles, sharks and manta rays in larger numbers, and some information suggests that there may be a commercial aspect to the hunting.
The village has long resisted outside interference, even from governmental officials. However, recent visits by our field team have generated new dialogue, as conservation education and ecotourism initiatives are being proposed in order to assist the village with a sustainable economic alternatives to dolphin and whale hunting. Dolphin Project remains committed to supporting positive change in Lamalera through education and awareness.