Peru Fisherman Illegally Kill 15,000 Dolphins A Year To Use As Shark Bait, Environmental Group Claims

By Josh Lieberman on October 24, 2013 1:38 PM EDT

dolphin
Fisherman in Peru kill 15,000 dolphins a year, according to an environmental group there. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

At least 15,000 dolphins are being killed every year off the coast of Peru for use as shark bait, despite a 1996 law banning dolphin-killing. That figure comes from conservation group Mondo Azul, who brought the issue to light last week, prompting the Peruvian government to look into the issue. The government says they're considering restricting shark fishing, which would render killing the dolphins for bait unnecessary, and that they'll pursue dolphin killers as well.    

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Another environmental group, the London-based Ecologist Film Unit, documented a dolphin killing in Peru. They released video of the hunt, which CNN described in grisly detail:  

On a crisp, sunny day, the group joins a fishing vessel as it goes through rough water riding closer and closer to dusky dolphins swimming under the ship's bow. The crew aims to plunge a harpoon into the pod, assuring it travels all the way through the body of one of the mammals.

Bleeding profusely, the dolphin is hauled on board and almost immediately dies on the deck of the vessel. With his sharpened knife, a Peruvian fisherman then peels the skin off the dolphin's back and carefully cuts the severed body into thin slices.

"I just went numb looking at the pitiful dolphin being battered with a club," said Mundo Azul president Stefan Austermühle, speaking of his own group's videos. "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."

Jim Wickens, a journalist with the Ecologist Film Unit, says that in recent years there's been an uptick in shark hunting in Peru. The meat is eaten in Peru, but the fins are rumored to be shipped to China for use in the delicacy shark fin soup. One silver lining is that many in China have turned against the once-highly-esteemed shark fin soup, after celebrity and government campaigns against it; as a result, consumption of shark fin soup in China has dropped 50 to 70 percent in China in the past two years.

The killing of both dolphins and sharks off the coast of Peru is disrupting the food chain too. Sharks prey on octopus; with fewer sharks around, there are more octopus. A now-robust octopus population has led to a plummeting of shrimp and lobster, which octopus like to dine on.

"It's a conservation car crash," said Wickens. "One apex predator being taken out of the ecosystem, being chopped up and fed to catch another," said Wickens. "Whichever way you look at it, it's bad news for the ocean."

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