Photo: An endangered whale shark awaits butchering at Lamalera.

The whaling village of Lamalera

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A “traditional” whaling village on the south coast of Lembata, Lamalerans are whaling today largely as they have for centuries and are resisting suggestions and government prodding to change their ways. Travellers may find a visit to Lamalera fascinating, confronting or a bit of both.





The village is set across two bays (a related village, Lamalera B sits on higher ground before Lamalera proper) looking over the Savu Sea, a prime migratory route for sperm and blue whales. Orcas also pass by, while whale sharks, dolphins, pilot whales (a type of dolphin) and manta rays are also present in the area. Lamalera has an official whaling season which commences on May 1, running until the end of August.

Lamalera is all about whales. Photo taken in or around The whaling village of Lamalera, Lembata, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

Lamalera is all about whales. Photo: Stuart McDonald

The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling allows some indigenous people to hunt whales. While Indonesia is not a signatory to the treaty, it is under the subsistence and “well we’ve been doing this forever” angle that villagers suggest they should be allowed to retain and practise their traditional way of life. The official Indonesian tourism website suggests a typical seasonal catch is 15 to 20 whales while reports from journalists suggest catches can be significantly higher (51 sperm whales in 2007) and lower (six in the first half of 2012).

Why are Lamalerans catching whales? We were told that apart from tradition, the primary reasons are that (a) the fishing in this area is otherwise poor—something to do with the topography of the sea bottom, (b) the landscape surrounding the village has little arable land suitable for cultivation, and (c) because it is what they know how to do. Whale meat is bartered for food from other surrounding villages and some is dried for lean periods when no whales are to ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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