Chinese authorities have arrested the fisherman who attempted to sell an enormous whale shark to a hotel restaurant on Monday. Residents of Ningde, Fujian province, spotted a truck with the massive protected fish spilling out of its bed and brought the incident to the attention of local police, state-run China News reported on Thursday.
A video surfaced Tuesday of men cutting up the whale shark in a parking lot, and more videos and pictures of the whale shark being driven through the streets popped up on Chinese social media throughout the week.
The man in question was arrested for engaging in illegal wildlife trafficking. Whale sharks are currently protected under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means that their trade is highly regulated to protect wild populations. This level of protection, the second-strictest under the multinational CITES agreement, indicates that whale sharks aren’t in immediate danger of extinction, but they could be if trade continues unabated.
The fisherman reportedly tried to sell the fish to a local hotel’s restaurant. Staff refused, but their reasons were more culinary than legal. They told the man it was “too smelly” and poisonous, according to China News.
Even though the hotel staff may not have been too conflicted about the whale shark’s death and the attempted sale, the actions of the people who alerted police to the matter illustrate a growing sense of social responsibility about endangered animals in a country often portrayed as negligent about conservation and complicit in the illegal wildlife trade
The footage shared on Pear Video of the whale shark being sawn apart is fairly gruesome. If you have a sensitive stomach, keep scrolling.
The restaurant staff’s complaint that the meters-long shark was too smelly seems fair, though the concern about poison is questionable. Shark meat can often contain high levels of methylmercury, which becomes increasingly concentrated in animals as it moves up the food chain. But this phenomenon, known as bioaccumulation, usually happens in apex predators. Since whale sharks feed mostly on krill, they don’t likely experience this.
So far, Chinese authorities have only arrested the one man for attempting to sell the whale shark parts, and it’s not clear whether they will make any more arrests.