Science Says: Man Eats Dolphins, Manatees to Meet Nutritional Needs

Marine mammals are on the menu in many parts of the world.

Dolphins for Dinner SIZE.jpg

Science Says: Man Eats Dolphins, Manatees to Meet Nutritional Needs
Dolphins for dinner? Don't be so shocked. In many parts of the world, the marine mammal is a menu item. (Photo: Darryl Bush/Getty)

Earmuffs, marine mammal lovers. Chances are you won’t be able to stomach this report.

As the world population rises, many people living in “coastal poverty-stricken areas” are increasingly looking to the open ocean for their next meal, eating marine mammals like dolphins, seals, manatees, and even polar bears.

A new study published in Biological Conservation has found that since 1990 a whopping 87 marine mammal species have been consumed in at least 114 countries.

In the poorest of the countries, like the Congo, Gabon, and Madagascar, the sea creatures act as an additional source of “dietary protein.”

While the fishing of large marine mammals—namely whales—is regulated, oversight of the ocean’s smaller aquatic denizens is kind of like law enforcement in the Wild West. There might be a sheriff in town, but more times than not it’s every dolphin for himself.

“International regulatory bodies exist to gauge the status of whale populations and regulate the hunting of these giants,” said lead author Martin D. Robards, of the Wildlife Conservation Society, in a statement. “These species, however, represent only a fraction of the world’s diversity of marine mammals, many of which are being accidentally netted, trapped, and—in some instances—directly hunted without any means of tracking as to whether these off-takes are sustainable.”

The list of mammals that are served up for dinner includes many rare and obscure creatures: pygmy beaked whales, South Asian river dolphins, the narwhal, and the Burmeister’s porpoise.

The study should be lauded not only for pointing out the problem, but for taking the first steps toward a solution, however perfuctory they might be at this early stage.

In the Congo, the study’s authors said they were working with local fishing communities to reduce accidental dolphin bycatch, as well as developing community-based whale and dolphing watching—code word for tourism—as an alternative means of income for the fishermen.