18/10/2013 13:29 BST | Updated 18/10/2013 18:09 BST

Dolphins Harpooned & Butchered For Shark Bait In Illegal Hunts Off Peru (VIDEO)

An undercover journalist has shot the first ever footage which confirms fisherman are butchering dolphins and using their flesh as shark bait off the coast of Peru.

Jim Wickens joined one of the illegal hunts – long regarded as an “open secret” among the world’s fishing communities - this summer.

He witnessed an adult dolphin being harpooned, stabbed and then clubbed, before being cut open – whilst still alive – and carved up to be used as bait.

illegal dolphin hunt peru

The dolphins are frequently still alive when they are carved up for bait

Reporting in The Ecologist, Wickens revealed he vomited at the brutality of the slaughter.

He writes:

"A dolphin beak emerged 50 yards from the boat, tugging at the taught rope, trying to swim away, it's efforts diminishing as it became gradually enveloped in a thick cloud of it's own blood. Two of the crew dragged the line in, the dolphin still desperately kicking its fins, but there could be no miracle escape from its bloody fate. As the boat drew closer, a shiny steel gaff hook was plunged into the soft skin of the dolphin's head, and it was hauled aboard, intestines pouring out of its twitching body. A crew member sharpened a knife and casually began to slice off the fins, tossing them into the sea before peeling the skin off the dolphin's back in long strips, amidst a thick puddle of bright red dolphin blood."

illegal dolphin hunt peru

Fishermen use harpoons to spear the animals before bringing them to their vessels

Because the hunts are illegal, no one knows exactly how many dolphins are killed this way, though Peruvian NGO Mundo Azul and US NGO Blue Voice estimate the number could be as high as 15,000.

Wickens told HuffPost UK: "I have been wanting to tell this story for two years. We have managed to shine a spotlight on what may be the biggest cetacean hunt in the world."

The father-of-two spent six days at sea for what he describes as "by far the hardest assignment I've ever done."

illegal dolphin hunt peru

It is illegal to hunt dolphins under Peruvian law

Of the project, which received assistance and backing from the Pulitzer Centre for Crisis Reporting, he revealed: "We were living on a tiny vessel next to the slowly decomposing corpse of a dolphin, 100km from shore, with no radio. It was very intense and by far the longest week of my life."

Often the partially butchered carcasses are thrown back into the sea and are sometimes found washed up on the shores of Peru.

As for what happens next, campaigners - including Stefan Austermühle of Mundo Azul - are working hard with the Peruvian authorities to put an end to the bloody hunts.

illegal dolphin hunt peru

Thousands of dolphins are believed to be killed in this manner ever year

A spokesman for PETA told HuffPost UK: "The Peruvian government needs to crack down on these petty criminals, who are currently making a mockery of the country's basic animal welfare laws.

"Dolphins are highly sentient beings who feel terror and pain, just as we do. Cutting open these smart and sensitive animals and feeding them to sharks is not only illegal but also wholly unethical, taking us back to the unenlightened times of Moby-Dick."