A study in Fanalei village, on the island of South Malaita, recorded an overall tally of 15,400 dolphins killed between 1976-2013 .
The dolphins are mainly killed for their teeth, a local currency often used to pay dowries for brides and for ceremonial jewellery.
Despite recent attempts from environmentalists and government to stamp out the practise, the local price of a dolphin tooth rose from the equivalent of 14 US cents in 2004 to about 70 US cents in 2013.
“The large number of dolphins killed and the apparent incentive for future hunting offered by the increasing commercial value of teeth highlight an urgent need to monitor hunts and assess the abundance and trends in local populations,” the report, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, said.
The Solomon Islands has a long history of “drive hunting”, however it is now limited to just a few villages.
Hunters in groups of 20-30 canoes drive dolphin schools from deep to coastal waters by hitting stones together. This creates a sound barrier underwater that drives the mainly spinner and spotted dolphins towards shore where they are killed.
Researchers said while the hunt did not pose a threat to the species, it did have the potential to wipe out small and isolated dolphin communities.
“We’ve learned over the years that many populations of dolphins are highly subdivided,” co-author Scott Baker, from Oregon State University, told Pacific Beat.
“That is, they’re localised around islands forming small communities. It’s the loss of those communities that is the threat here.”
Dr Baker said village leaders in South Malaita were receptive to ideas that would protect the resource.
“They’d like to continue the tradition into the future and that might not be possible if they’re overexploiting local populations,” he said.
Dive hunting was first documented in the Solomon Islands during the early 20th century, the report states.
But it remains unclear when and where the hunt was initiated or introduced into the culture.
Oral history from Fanalei village suggests it might have stopped with the arrival of Christianity around the middle of the 19th century.
But, according to the study, it was revived in 1948, and by the mid-1960s several thousand dolphins were being killed every year.
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