A factory in China's Zhejiang Province is responsible for killing over 600 whale sharks annually and illegally exporting shark products. The company has been profiting from processing internationally protected sharks, including whale sharks, basking sharks and great whites.
The shark skins are sold to make leather, while the fins and meat are often sold to restaurants. The most profitable product, however, is the shark oil obtained from the liver. It is used in skincare products and lipstick, and also in Omega-3 dietary supplements.
Undercover investigators from the conservation organization WildLifeRisk and filmmakers from the Oceanic Preservation Society posed as an international seafood company to gain access to the factory. They filmed Mr. Li Guang, who is the owner and general manager of the factory, called 'China Wenzhou Yueqing Marine Organisms Health Protection Foods Co Ltd.' Guang admits to smuggling whale shark skin out of the country and selling shark liver oil as "fish liver oil."
Alex Hofford and Paul Hilton of WildLifeRisk has been investigating the factory for the past three years, and have visited the factory three times. "On each occasion the scale of the slaughter was truly staggering," they write in a statement. Hoffard and Hilton obtained oil samples for DNA testing, and confirmed the presence of basking sharks and great white.
The international sale of these supplements violates the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which China has signed. According to the CITES agreement, great white, whale shark and basking are not at the highest risk of becoming extinct, but are threatened and subject to stricter regulations. In China, these species can be hunted only with a special permit.
Louie Psihoyos, director of "The Cove" and founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society was part of the sting operation. Psihoyos said in a press release he hope their footage will help shut down the operation completely. The footage may also give us a taste of Psihoyos' next film, currently titled "The Heist."
Paul Hilton hopes they can end the factory's operation. "We'd like to see the factory closed down, which then would be a stepping stone for may other wildlife issues in China to be addressed," he wrote TreeHugger in an email. "The Chinese government is trying to make change, by setting examples for the people. Recently with the ivory crush and the ban of shark fin soup at official government functions, etc."
There has been no official response from the local government regarding the factory yet.