fb pixel fb conversion Sam LaBudde | Pepperdine School of Law

Sam LaBudde


Starting around 1960, tuna boats operating in the eastern Pacific Ocean began intentionally capturing dolphins in giant, circular, mile-long nets to harvest tuna which often swim below dolphin herds. By 1988, over seven million dolphins had been slaughtered during the setting and hauling of nets.

When biologist Sam LaBudde learned about the dolphin slaughter, he drove across the border to Mexico and managed to get hired by the owner of a Panamanian fishing boat. Once aboard he surreptitiously videotaped the dolphin slaughter. LaBudde's footage provided the first graphic evidence that tuna fishermen were indiscriminately slaughtering dolphins. LaBudde testified before the United States Congress and the footage was shown on national television, provoking outrage across the country. In the months that followed, LaBudde worked with the Earth Island Institute and the Marine Mammal Fund to launch the most successful consumer boycott in U.S. history. By spring of 1990, the three major tuna brands agreed to process only dolphin-safe tuna, resulting in a 95 percent reduction in dolphin kills.

For his efforts, Sam LaBudde was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1991.

Months later LaBudde returned to sea, this time to document open-ocean driftnetting, a destructive fishing method using nets 50 to 60 kilometers long. With this video footage, LaBudde led a campaign that resulted in a 1992 United Nations resolution banning the use of driftnets. Later he also lobbied for the passage of legislation which banned imports of tuna that is not dolphin-safe into the nations of the European Community.

LaBudde continued to expose other forms of wildlife slaughter, including the illegal killing of walrus in Alaska for the ivory trade. He used his Goldman Prize money to establish the Endangered Species Project (ESP) to prevent species extinction and to foster preservation efforts for wilderness habitats