Fishermen off the coast of Peru are slaughtering dolphins by the thousands to use them as bait for catching sharks. According to CNN, more than 10,000 dolphins are killed every year in Peru’s waters, despite laws that make it illegal to hunt the mammals. Dolphins are harpooned and brought onto boats, where they're skinned alive.
Conservationists say the macabre practice is widespread in Peru. Undercover investigators from Ecologist Film Unit, a London-based nonprofit news organization with an emphasis on environmental reporting, traveled aboard one of the shark-fishing vessels and filmed a fisherman harpooning and skinning a dolphin.
"In recent years, there's been an upsurge in the targeting of sharks," said Jim Wickens, a journalist with the Ecologist Film Unit. "The shark meat is predominantly consumed within Peru, but the fins, we're told, are being exported to the Far East for use as shark fin soup."
According to CNN, dolphin hunting “has financial incentives.” Shark fishing is a lucrative career in Peru, allowing fishermen to make about $22,000 USD.
Dolphin hunting was banned in Peru in 1997, but fishermen continue to target the animals. Conservationists credit weak law enforcement and a lack of awareness with the killings.
After footage of the dolphin slaughtering was released, officials in Peru said they would consider restricting shark fishing. According to Reuters, government officials plan to complete a study on dolphin slaughter by mid-2014.
"We will pursue those committing these crimes," Paul Phumpiu, deputy minister of Fisheries, told reporters. "We are considering all forms of action, from bans and restrictions to -- in extreme cases -- the prohibition of [shark] commercialization."
Stefan Austermuhle, executive director of the nonprofit Mundo Azul, added, "It is clear that the entire fishing fleet for sharks in Peru is involved in a systematic killing of dolphins.”
“This ecological crime is an open secret in Peruvian fishing,” he said, noting that fishermen even purchase harpoons called “dolphin killers.”
Gonzalo Llosa, a consultant to Peru’s environment ministry, said that the only way to combat the killing of dolphins off of Peru’s coasts, aside from directly prosecuting the fishermen involved, is for the government to sponsor education programs. "We can attack this best as a social problem," Llosa said, according to the Los Angeles Times.