Kupang. Authorities in the eastern Indonesian district of Lembata continued to mount search efforts on Friday after a harpooned orca whale dragged down a boat with 12 traditional hunters on board, officials said.
“Four made it to Mulandoro but the eight others have yet to be found,” Lamalera village chief Yoseph Dasion said.
Local fishermen, assisted by a local marine police unit, had failed to find any of the eight missing men by late on Thursday, he added.
Traditional whale hunters on the island of Lembata usually hunt sperm whales, locally known as koteklema, but the animals have become scarce in recent years. Orca whales, or seguni, are usually not hunted as they are known to be aggressive and difficult to catch.
“It took place near Tanjung Atadei in Lembata district. We have sent fishing boats to help search for the eight people who had been thrown out of their boat as it was dragged into the water,” he said.
Several whaling boats from Lamalera had seen the orca, he added, but only the Bero Blolong boat chose to pursue it.
Yoseph said that he had asked the district authorities to send motorboats to help the search efforts.
Lembata district chief Eliaser Yentji Sunur, said that he had coordinated with the naval base in Kupang, West Timor and sought boats and personnel to join the rescue attempt.
“Members of the Lembata district Youth Disaster Mitigation Force, have also been sent to Lamalera and hopefully the missing can be found safe and sound,” Eliaser said.
Local residents said that Orca are only pursued by hunters after feeding — usually on dolphins or whale cubs — as they are more vulnerable after having eaten.
Lamalera, on the southern tip of Lembata is one of only two traditional whaling communities on the island. Between them they usually hunt about a dozen sperm whales in a year.