In the last 60 years, incidental entanglement in fishing gears (so called by-catch) became the main cause of mortality worldwide for small cetaceans and is pushing several populations and species to the verge of extinction. Thus, monitoring and quantifying by-catches is an important step towards proper and sustainable management of cetacean populations. Continuous studies indicated that by-catches and directed takes of small cetaceans in Peru greatly increased since 1985. Legal measures banning cetacean takes, enforced in 1994 and 1996, ironically made monitoring highly problematic as fishers continue catching these animals but utilize or dispose of carcasses clandes- tinely. Hence, in locations where cetaceans are landed covertly or already butchered, molecular genetic methods can provide the only means of identification of the species, sex, and sometimes the population of each sample. Here, we generate and analyse a fragment of the mitochondrial DNA cytochrome b gene and 5 nuclear microsatellite markers from 182 meat and skin samples of unidentified small cetaceans collected at three Peruvian markets between July 2006 and April 2007. Our results, compared to past surveys, indicate that Lagenorhynchus obscurus, Phocoena spinipinnis, Tursiops truncatus, Delphinus capensis, and D. delphis continue to be caught and marketed, but that the relative incidence of P. spinipinnis is highly reduced, pos- sibly because of population depletion. The small number of possible sampling duplicates demonstrates that a high monitoring frequency is required for a thorough evaluation of incidental catches in the area. A wide public debate on by-catch mitigation measures is greatly warranted in Peru.
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