Ocean Park is pressing ahead with controversial research into bottle-nose dolphin populations in and around the Solomon Islands, but insists it will not capture wild mammals from the area.

Animal welfare groups were outraged last year when it emerged that the park had entered discussions with the Solomon Islands government about funding a dolphin population survey with a view to importing wild-caught dolphins if the population was found to be sustainable.

The park agreed to fund a US$100,000 dollar study and is said to have discussed importing around 25 bottle-nose dolphins from the Solomon Islands depending on the findings.

Following an outcry over the project and the subsequent controversy over the proposed import of beluga whales from Russia, Ocean Park Chairman Allan Zeman confirmed that the park was no longer considering importing dolphins from the Solomon Islands.

However, in response to questions from the China Daily, Ocean Park's public affairs director, Una Lau, said a population study would go ahead even though she said the park had no intention to import from the Solomon Islands either now or in future.

She said Ocean Park is still committed to assist with the understanding about the bottle-nose dolphin population, not only in the Solomon Islands, but elsewhere in the Western Tropical Pacific and South East Asia in order to support the conservation of this species.

The study will be conducted by Leszek Karczmarski of the Swire Institute of Marine Science and Associate Professor at Hong Kong University, she said, and evaluated by independent marine mammal experts.

The Solomon Islands part of the project had not yet begun, and Lau says the governments of several island states and other countries would also be approached for cooperation.

Currently, a debate is raging in the Solomon Islands over the proposed export of 25 bottle-nose dolphins to an undisclosed location on the mainland, which has reportedly already been approved by the government.