Dolphins in Peru are having their lives cut short as fishermen take to the seas, illegally harpooning and killing the animals in order to harvest their skin for shark bait.
Sharks are a profitable commodity to fishermen, as their meat has long been considered an expensive delicacy in Asia, and now, a new report by the investigative group and conservation NGO Mundo Azul suggests that this shark meat demand is indirectly fueling another tragedy in our oceans: the slaughter of more than 15,000 dolphins each year in Peru alone.
Undercover reporters were embedded with the fishermen who kill the dolphins and recorded the graphic techniques they use: Fishermen track dolphin pods, and when they’re within shooting distance, they will aim a harpoon into the group and fire. Once they’ve hit their target, the fishermen will hoist the dolphin onto their boat and slice off the animals’ skin, sometimes while it is still alive. Other times, the animal is clubbed to death.
“I just went numb looking at the pitiful dolphin being battered with a club,” Stefan Austermühle, the president of Mundo Azul and an undercover reporter himself, said in an interview with Blue Voice, the organization that funded the mission. “All I could do was continue recording the event in the hope that making the world aware of this tragedy can somehow bring an end to it.”
While hunting dolphins is technically illegal in Peru, Austermühle calls it an “open secret” in the fishing industry, with little to no enforcement. The practice was outlawed in 1996, but it is rarely enforced, he said.
At its peak, nearly 20,000 dolphins were being killed in Peru each year, Mundo Azul estimates. Despite the threat of incarceration or seizure of their fishing licenses, fishermen continue to catch dolphins.
And the slaughter continues.
In other countries, where there are no specific laws to protect small cetaceans, including dolphins and porpoises, the killing is left entirely unchecked.
Perhaps the most well known occurrence of dolphin killing is in Taiji, Japan, the city made infamous by the 2010 Oscar-winning documentary The Cove. In Taiji, dolphins are gathered and killed—not for shark bait, but for human consumption and for selling to marine parks.
Peru is not alone in their use of dolphins as chum. Fishermen in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Tanzania have also been known to lure sharks with dolphin meat, claims Hardy Jones, the executive director for Blue Voice.
“Using dolphins as bait?” Jones asks incredulously. “That’s like using Albert Einstein as a traffic bump…It’s an extraordinary act of cruelty.”
But Jones doesn’t blame the fishermen. “I blame the government,” he says. “Now that they know, they have to act.”
Petition to End Slaughter
Blue Voice has already obtained signatures from 33 international NGOs and plans to send their proposal to the Peruvian government, letting them know that their behavior is “unacceptable.” Once they stop the overfishing of sharks, Jones believes, only then will the dolphin slaughter stop too. (See “100 Million Sharks Killed Every Year.”)
The Peruvian government vows to investigate the crimes and plans to deliver a report by June 2014, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Until then, what can you do to help? Stay informed. You can help spread the word, become a dolphin conservation volunteer, or sign Blue Voice’s petition to the Peruvian government to stop the slaughter.