At least 15,000 dolphins are illegally killed each year off the coast of Peru by fishermen who use them as shark bait, according to an undercover investigation, a consequence of the high profits available in the shark fin market.
According to conservation organization Mundo Azul, more than 545 boats specially designed for hunting dolphins go out at least half a dozen times a year, killing between two and six dolphins each voyage, reported La Republica. The dolphin carcasses are used to catch sharks, whose meat is sold in Peru and whose fins can be sold at extraordinarily high prices in Asia.
Mundo Azul put informants on to fishing vessels over the course of several months, with executive director Stefan Austermuhle himself accompanying fishermen and filming the harpooning of several dolphins, reported the Los Angeles Times. "This ecological crime is an open secret in Peruvian fishing," he said.
Austermuhle said that the figure of 15,000 did not include the estimated 3,000 dolphins killed each year for human consumption in Peru.
The government said it had launched an investigation into the practice, which is set to be completed by next June.
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The killing of dolphins is prohibited in Peru, under a 1996 law that Mundo Azul campaigned for. However, as the investigation shows, the practice is still widespread and is likely to continue while such huge profits are on offer for the sharks they are used to catch.
Shark meat is commonly eaten in Peru, but it is the fin market where the real profits lie -- Peru is among the 12 main shark fin exporters in the world. Dried shark fins sell for around $700 per kilo in Asia, while according to Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, one fin of the whale shark, the most prized delicacy, can sell for over $1,000.
While shark fishing is permitted in most countries in the world, including Peru, shark finning, in which the fish are left to die slowly in the water after their fins have been removed, is an internationally-banned practice. However it continues to take place in Latin American waters, notably in Costa Rica, where four fishermen were jailed last year for the massacre of more than 2,000 sharks for their fins off Colombia's Pacific coast, and there is evidence of the involvement of the Taiwanese mafia in the trade.