Activists Alex Hofford and Paul Hilton from the Hong Kong-based conservation NGO, WildLifeRisk, travelled to the region to find nearly 600 whale sharks being slaughtered annually. Whale sharks are the largest fish in nature and are listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, meaning they are close to extinction.
“It’s a lot of carnage in one place, a lot of damage. It was pretty overwhelming,” said Hilton, who posed as a undercover buyer in an investigation that began in 2010 and ended last December.
“It was shocking. You go in there and they were laid out on the floor, all chopped up. You nearly want to vomit. When you have swum with them, it’s very upsetting,” Hofford told the New York Times.
Their report alleges that the China Wenzhou Yueqing Marine Organisms Health Protection Foods Company, in the Pu Qi township near Wenzhou has been processing whale sharks, as well as basking and white sharks. Basking and whale sharks are protected by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, as Appendix II animals, animals that are not threatened by extinction but whose trade needs to be controlled.
Activists have been asking to include the white shark as an Appendix II animal in order to protect it from large-scale finning activities.
Undercover footage shows the whale sharks are being caught as they travel on their migratory paths from western Australia past the coast of China, before being sent to Pu Qi for processing.
According to the company's website the fins and flesh were sold in China, whereas the skin was sent to the bag industry. However, the oil was often exported to countries including the U.S. and Canada, labeled simply as fish liver oil, to be used as health supplements and in the cosmetic industry.
“Our control system just isn’t good enough. And we have to teach fishermen what’s a protected species and what’s not. Supervision at all levels has to improve, including at customs departments,” said May Mei, program manger at WildAid, an NGO based in the U.S. and China.
“Domestic Chinese media are pretty shocked, too,” she added.