December 22, 2016

Ocean Care: Campaign for the protection of dolphins and sharks in Peru

OceanCare: For healthy living oceans

Tödliche «Feder»: Spitze einer Handharpune für die Delphinjagd (Robert Marc Lehmann)

Tödliche «Feder»: Spitze einer Handharpune für die Delphinjagd (Robert Marc Lehmann)

OceanCare has been committed to marine wildlife protection since 1989. Through research and conservation projects, campaigns, environmental education, and involvement in a range of important international committees, OceanCare undertakes concrete steps to improve the situation for wildlife in the world’s oceans.
In 2011, OceanCare was granted Special Consultative Status on marine issues with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Worst illegal dolphin hunt in the world

Every year thousands of dolphins suffer an extremely painful death in Peruvian waters. Despite a ban on cetacean hunting, local fishermen continue to harpoon mainly dusky dolphins to use their flesh as shark bait. Together with Mundo Azul and other partner organisations, OceanCare wants to stop this brutal hunt. In 2017, a documentary on dolphin hunting in Peru will be released.

On their boats, the hunters wait in ambush for the dolphins. They rely on the curiosity of the animals unsuspectingly approaching the boat where the hunters wait to harpoon them at close range. When they hit a dolphin, they let the animal swim bleeding on the harpoon line. As soon as the dolphin is exhausted, it is pulled into the boat, beaten to death and then dismembered. The pieces of flesh are mainly used as shark bait, but a considerable amount of the dolphin meat is sold illegally on Peruvian markets for human consumption.

Brutal, illegal, and absurd

Peru banned dolphin hunting in 1997. However, it is an open secret among Peruvian fishermen that this ban is largely ignored. The sheer number of dolphins killed are higher than anywhere else in the world. According to a conservative estimate by Mundo Azul, about 15,000 dolphins are killed by shark hunters every year.
Mundo Azul President and biologist Stefan Austermuhle is fighting this intolerable situation in cooperation with OceanCare. In 2013, he filmed the brutal treatment of dolphins and sharks. What he witnessed at sea was beyond his worst expectations. As long as the Peruvian Government does not punish illegal killing of dolphins, the fishermen will continue to abuse marine mammals as cheap bait. Fresh fish – the preferred prey of sharks – is more expensive.

In a second heart-breaking massacre, tens of thousands of mako, blue and other sharks are brutally killed every year. Shark populations in Peruvian coastal regions are already dramatically overfished. Today, about 95% of the shark catch are juveniles. In addition to immense animal suffering, the shark hunt causes massive species conservation problems and is thus a twofold environmental crime.

Twofold environmental crime

In a second heart-breaking massacre, tens of thousands of mako, blue and other sharks are brutally killed every year. Shark populations in Peruvian coastal regions are already dramatically overfished. Today, about 95% of the shark catch are juveniles. In addition to immense animal suffering, the shark hunt causes massive species conservation problems and is thus a twofold environmental crime.
OceanCare, Mundo Azul and partner organisations are advocating stricter hunting laws that are rigorously enforced in Peru. These organisations call for prison sentences to be effectively enforced, and for a ban on owning harpoons. Dolphins have a chance to escape the shark hunters if they do not have harpoons.
OceanCare and 33 partner organisations presented these and further demands to President Ollanta Humala in 2013. In 2015 OceanCare stepped up the public pressure on the Peruvian Government, amongst others, by calling on people to send protest postcards to the Peruvian embassy. OceanCare together with other international wildlife and species conservation organisations also launched an online protest addressed to the president of Peru.
OceanCare’s work towards these goals also takes place within all relevant international fora: In 2015, targeting both Peruvian officials worldwide and relevant fisheries and species conservation conventions, we campaigned for enforcement of the existing hunting ban, and for a ban on harpoons in Peru.

 

Documentary as a turning point

Up to now, it is largely unknown that year after year thousands of dolphins suffer a painful death in Peru. The massacre is taking place at sea – hidden from the eyes of the public.
In late 2013 Stefan Austermuhle, biologist of German origin and president of Mundo Azul, managed to go incognito along with a fishing boat and – risking his life – to film what was going on for one month. He documented how the fishermen used hand harpoons to hunt the dolphins, letting them bleed in the water to attract sharks. As soon as the dolphin is devitalised, it is pulled into the boat and dismembered to use the flesh as shark bait. The sharks, too, are suffering a gruesome death. By now the shark populations of Peru’s coastal region became dramatically overfished.

The courageous undercover research by Stefan Austermuhle in 2013 yielded extensive footage that will, together with additional shoots, be made into a documentary in 2017 in order to raise consciousness in Peru and in the public worldwide, and finally to make the Peruvian Government act.
A peaceful relationship to marine mammals can certainly not be brought about by pressure alone. In the long run, OceanCare and Mundo Azul want to win the fishermen’s support for dolphin protection and sustainable fisheries. Continuing to raise awareness will yield a change in attitudes. There can only be change if it is supported by the people.
Public pressure is effective: Even in Japan, such a documentary (‘The Cove”) contributed to lower the number of dolphins killed in dolphin drive hunts by more than 50%.