Dolphins Purposely Killed for Use as Seafood Bait

A dolphin leaps from the water. FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't eat dolphin, your seafood dinner could be killing them.

According to a recent review of decades of studies, many fishers around the world kill dolphins and other marine animals to use their meat as bait. The animal they catch with that bait is the animal you're likely to eat.

Killing marine mammals for use as bait is a widespread problem, present in fisheries around the world, but primarily Latin America and Asia. The research review of this problem was published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

There are various reasons why someone would use a mammal like a dolphin—killed intentionally or accidentally as "by-catch"—as bait, Vanessa Mintzer, the lead author of the study, told Newsweek. While it is fairly common in places like Taiji, Japan, to simply eat dolphins directly, in others, it is considered taboo. People also don't like the taste of the meat in some cases. Where it is illegal to kill dolphins, it's easier to hide the crime by using the meat for bait, rather than serving it up directly, Mintzer, a researcher at the University of Florida said.

Most of the dolphins killed for bait end up in shark fisheries, and shark-fin soup is gaining popularity in many parts of Asia. In some cases, the connection between one form of seafood and using dolphin meat is clear. In other cases, it would be difficult to know whether your seafood shopping habits are supporting dolphin deaths. "Tracing exactly where our seafood comes from is difficult—it's a big issue," Mintzer said.

This study also comes on the heels of California banning the use of driftnets off their coast after undercover footage demonstrated that this type of netting, intended to catch sharks and other animals, also results in the deaths of dolphins and protected animals.

The study found that hunting marine mammals for use as bait has affected at least 42 species, several of which are threatened. In many places, it is illegal to intentionally kill these species, and Mintzer says that ecologists could do more to address this issue.

Specifically, illegal dolphin harvests occur more often in impoverished areas. If we are to reduce these killings, Mintzer says, fishers would need sustainable fishing practices that don't harm their income.

"A lot of it has to be dealt with on the ground," she said. "And hopefully with the participation of the fishermen."