Peruvian fishermen are slaughtering up to 15,000 dolphins a year in order to use their flesh as bait to catch sharks, according to an investigation by three environmental organizations that was reported in The Guardian newspaper.
A graphic video filmed by the Peruvian organization, Mundo Azul, was posted on The Guardian’s website, showing fishermen spearing a dolphin and clubbing it against the side of the boat. The practice is illegal in Peru.
The undercover, month-long investigation was carried out by Mundo Azul, the US-based Blue Voice and the UK organization Ecostorm Agency.
“After working 15 years in Peru against the killing of dolphins and after having sailed with these fishermen for 24 days, fishing sharks and killing dolphins, the result of our investigation is absolutely appalling,” said Stefan Austermühle, the executive director of Mundo Azul.
“It is clear that the entire fishing fleet for sharks in Peru is involved in the systematic killing of dolphins,” he said.
The carcass of the dolphins is used as bait, but fishermen carefully remove most of the flesh first — the dark loin meat was traditionally salt-cured and sold as muchame, a delicacy occasionally found in the port of Callao and fishing coves along the coast. In the early 1990s, however, muchame became all the rage among Lima’s gourmands and instead of using dolphins caught in fishing nets, the fleet went out to specifically catch them.
Then following a strong and cleverly-designed publicity campaign (“I surf with dolphins, I don’t eat them), environmentalists were able to push through a law in Congress in 1997 to prohibit the catch of dolphins.
According to Austermühle, conservative estimates place the number of dolphins killed each year at between 7,000 to 15,000 in Peru, by fleets that fish for sharks.
“At the same time, the level of overfishing of the sharks is taking the species to a level of extinction,” he said.
Sharks reproduce at a slow rate. They have to grow several years before reaching maturity and have small numbers of offspring. This is why they are sensitive to over fishing. Even so, globally, more than 100 million sharks are caught every year.
The Guardian report said the sharks are killed by cutting off their noses and putting a wire through their brain and into their spinal cord in order to immobilize them. The animal’s fins, an export in high demand, are cut off when the shark is still alive.
The video can be seen here.