By Stefan Austermühle Executive Director, Mundo Azul
At least 1,000 dolphins per year are killed illegally by fishermen along the Peruvian coast, according to the Peruvian nongovernmental organization Mundo Azul ("Blue World"). Their meat is sold on a flourishing black market, and Mundo Azul has collected reports of dolphin meat being sold in various fish markets in cities along the coast as well as in restaurants in Lima.
The hunting and killing of dolphins, as well as the sale of dolphin meat and its consumption was prohibited under Peruvian law in 1995 as a result of a dramatic increase of dolphin hunting during the 1980s and early '90s in Peru, which led to an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 dolphins being killed each year.
For years the problem was thought to be solved, but in truth, it is not. Reports and photographs that we have collected from places all along the 3,000 kilometer desert coast clearly show that illegal dolphin hunting continues to be a widespread practice. The fishermen encircle whole dolphin schools with nets, catch them with harpoons, lift them aboard and kill them by clubbing them to death-as happened this February in front of one of Lima's most famous recreational beaches called Pulpos. Here ten dolphins were killed near the shoreline where hundreds of eyewitnesses stood. One, Mrs. Serena, remembered, "It was barbaric. They harpooned the dolphins, one man jumped in the water and they lifted the dolphins aboard, then they clubbed them to death. It took them at least five minutes to kill the animals who suffered horribly. I was in despair and didn't know what to do. We stood on the beach, screaming and yelling and they didn't even bother about us." When the police patrol finally arrived, the fishermen were too far away to be identified. Capitan Juan Torres Diaz, Chief of Investigation of Crimes for Lurin, noted: "We don't have boats, not even a binocular. We stood on the beach switching on our sirens and yelling at the boats and couldn't do anything." An anonymous person, who was called from a nearby port, tried to reach the fishermen by jet-ski but had to give up.
This case is not the only one. In one beach in the northern limits of the coastal area of Lambayeque, members of Mundo Azul found more than 20 dolphins killed for human consumption in a single day. On another beach, the remains of three more dolphins washed up last Christmas. In the harbor city of Pucusana, a slaughtered dolphin washed up on the shore about 50 meters away from the office of the harbor police, who did nothing until Mundo Azul members pressed them to start an investigation.
In order to fight illegal dolphin killing, we have started a national awareness campaign for the conservation of dolphins. Mundo Azul also set up local environmental education programs in schools and are in the process of establishing a volunteer-based vigilance system to catch fishermen illegally killing dolphins. Presently, with the ecological police of Peru, we are investigating the illegal trade in dolphin meat in an under-cover operation, for the purpose of identifying illegal hunters and traders and bringing them to justice. For the second half of 2003, Mundo Azul plans to organize 21 educational seminars for local leaders, such as journalists, representatives of local fishermen associations, local police, and coastguard personnel in the seven most important coastal cities along the Peruvian coast, to inform them about the existing laws and raise their environmental awareness.