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Why Dolphin Safe Tuna Is Not Really Safe for Dolphins

written by: Lucinda Watrous•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 2/28/2010

If it is called Dolphin Safe Tuna, it should be safe for dolphins, right? Wrong. Read on to find out more.

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    Dolphin safe tuna refers to tuna caught without causing harm to or killing dolphins. Dolphins are often harmed by the nets used to catch tuna because they get stuck in them. As people began to notice the rising number of dolphins harmed in the process of harvesting tuna, it led to a number of "dolphin safe" tuna labels. Dolphin usually swim with various kinds of tuna schools and this is why they are often harmed in the cross fire. Since 1980, there has been effort to reduce the number of dolphin harmed during tuna harvesting here in the United States.

    The thing about "dolphin safe" tuna is, there are many different regulations and rules about what constitutes the tuna as dolphin safe. There are however, no universal regulations that must be followed in order to be able to use the dolphin safe label on a can of tuna. Because of this, no one is really sure how dolphin safe the tuna is. According to the United States regulation, dolphins may be caught in the net and as long as they are not injured, the dolphin safe label may still be used. Some experts are against this rule as a capture may be traumatic for the creature.

    The species of tuna generally not seen with dolphin is Skipjack tuna. This is likely the most true to the dolphin safe labeling, but many different tuna companies do not list the specific species of tuna included in the product. Most other species of tuna are seen swimming with dolphins. Some tuna labeled as dolphin safe is caught without the use of nets in order to reduce the chance of a dolphin potentially getting caught in the net with or without harm.

    There are several different dolphin safe labels people may find on their tuna cans. Certain labels, such as the Earth Island label, indicate that no dolphins were caught, harmed, or harassed during the harvesting of the tuna, whereas others, such as the United States Department of Commerce label only certifies the dolphins were not injured. In spite of these labels, no one but the fishermen can really be sure of whether or not dolphins have been kept safe during the harvest.