Abstract Several species of small cetaceans are captured by fishermen in Peruvian coastal waters and used for human consumption. A large directed fishery exists for one species, the dusky dolphin Lagenorhynchus obscurus. In addition, two other species, the Burmeister's porpoise Phocoena spinipinnis and bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus, are commonly taken in both directed fisheries and incidentally to other fishing operations. To examine the exploitation of these species in detail, we monitored the catches at several small ports in central Peru during 1985 and 1986. The vast majority (over 90%) of small cetaceans landed at these ports were dusky dolphins captured in drift gill nets. A few animals were taken in demersal gill nets, purse seines, by hand-thrown harpoons and other methods, Artisanal fishermen captured small cetaceans when the animals were available and when other more lucrative fisheries were unavailable. Most dolphin and porpoise meat was consumed fresh, although a small amount was salted and dried. Published statistics of the weight of small cetaceans landed at Peruvian ports, in conjunction with species composition and mean species weight data collected during this study, allow us to estimate that approximately 10 000 dolphins and porpoises were landed in Peru during 1985.