July 5th 1930: Large Shark Caught Off Tai Po

On this day 85 years (1930) the Hong Kong Telegraph reported the capture of a large shark off Tai Po:

The Hong Kong Telegraph 5th July 1930 (p.20)
The Hong Kong Telegraph 5th July 1930 (p.20)

The naturalist G.A.C Herklots, identified it as Eulamia melanopterus (now Carcharinus melanopterus) – the black-tipped reef shark and reported it to be 7 feet (2.1 m) in length. He published the image of the shark featured in this blog post in the Hong Kong Naturalist.

The other shark incident mentioned in the Telegraph involved a fisherman being bitten by a shark on June 10th of 1930. The South China Morning Post (SCMP, June 10th 1930) reported:

A fisherman called Ho Sang was admitted into the Kwohg Wah
Hospital at Yaumati [Yau Ma Tei] on June 8th with severe injuries to his right arm. His uncle related the following incident. When fishing in their boat off Pak Sha O, near Tai Po, the younger man, Ho Sang, hooked a shark. He succeeded in raising it to the surface and was hauling it into the boat when the fish seized his right arm injuring it severely. No details are given as to the size of the shark or what happened to it after its attack on the fisherman.

 

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Consupmtion of Shark’s Fin in Hong Kong Dropping

According to a new survey by the Social Sciences Research Centre of the University of Hong Kong, in the past five years, close tp 70% of residents have reduced or stopped eating shark’s fin soup. The 1,000 people surveyed found that 92% of respondants found it acceptable to remove shark fin soup from a wedding banquet menu, versus 80% in 2009.

  • use of shark’s fin at wedding banquets fell from 91% in 2009 to 72% in 2014
  • consumption of shark’s fin during Chinese New Year went from 38% in 2009 to 14% in 2014.
  • many said they are willing to try alternatives
  • less than 1% saw shark fin as irreplaceable at banquets
  • 24% of respondents said they did not eat shark fin at all in 2014 compared with 15% in 2009
  • 44% had not eaten it at a restaurant for a year against 17.5% earlier
  • Environmental concern was cited as the main reason why people shunned shark’s fin

Stanley Shea Kwok-ho program coordinator at Bloom Marine (the organisation funnding the survey) said people are more aware of the environmental impact of eating shark fin, and many hotels, restaurants and catering firms have helped in the fight for conservation by striking it off their menus. And many are offering alternatives to shark fin soup.

Imogen Zethoven, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Global Shark Conservation Campaign, said she is delighted to see local support for protecting sharks growing when “we know about 100 million sharks are killed each year in commercial fisheries.”

While praising the government for taking a lead in banning shark fin and bluefin tuna from official banquets in 2013, Shea said it should also discourage the consumption of all products involving endangered species.

Related to that, 84% of respondents said the government could do more to protect sharks through education and 69% that sustainable seafood should be promoted.

Hong Kong still handles about 50% of the global trade in shark fins.

(Source: HK Standard, April 17, 2015)

Illegal Tourism & Poaching of Endangered Species in the Paracel Islands

Photographs posted online recently show Chinese tourists posing with endangered species off the Paracel Islands, a disputed area of the South China Sea. Tourists were posing with red coral, thresher sharks and other fish according to the China News Service . All three thresher shark species have been recently listed as vulnerable to extinction by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

The photos were widely condemned by internet users on the mainland, and raised concerns among conservationists.

The Crescent Group of the Paracel Islands (Image: WikiCommons)
The Crescent Group of the Paracel Islands (Image: WikiCommons)

The authorities have since pledged to crack down on “illegal tourist activity”. Feng Wenhai, the deputy mayor of Sansha said that a task force of police, national security agencies and the coastguard would target illegal tourism boats operating in the area. Other officials and fishermen would apparently also carry out patrols to search for such boats according to Feng.

A tour operator in Hainan province who arranges trips to the Paracel Islands told the South China Morning Post that tourists who wanted to go fishing often chartered illegal boats costing much more than authorised cruises. “They need to find their own charter vessels and gather enough people as the cost is quite high, normally tens of thousands of yuan,” he said.

Given recent Japanese accusation of red coral poaching in disputed waters against China’s government-subsidized fishing fleet and the high-profile arrest and conviction of Chinese fisherman poaching close to 500 endangered sea turtles in Philippine waters, the statement by Feng Wenhai has almost no credibility. How after all can the government control illegal fishing and poaching by tourists when it can’t even stop its own government-funded fishing fleet from raping the sea and ignoring all rules?

In 2012, amid intensifying territorial disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea, China established the city of Sansha to administer the disputed Paracels – known as Xisha in Chinese – and the disputed Spratly Islands and the Macclesfield Bank in the South China Sea. That was two years after the Chinese authorities announced plans to develop the tourism industry in the Paracels.

Map showing the poisition of the Paracels Islands in the South China Sea (Image: WikiCommons)
Map showing the position of the Paracels Islands in the South China Sea (Image: WikiCommons)

The first tourist cruises in 2013 were run by state-owned operators aboard the “Coconut Princess” and set sail from Sanya , the capital of Hainan Island. The four-day, three-night cruises to three of the islets cost from 4,000 yuan (HK$5,000) to 10,000 yuan. However, they are only open to mainland Chinese – foreigners, tourists from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan and those with criminal records are not allowed.

Sai Kung Sharks Story a Bit Fishy

As reported by Coconuts Hong Kong (November 12, 2014) in blurb headlined “Pair of meter-long sharks spotted in Sai Kung” , HK resident Adri Blumberg spotted what seemed to be a shark in Sheung Sze Wan, Sai Kung on the morning of the 12th November:
“two sharks (or shark-like creatures) have been seen in shallow waters near a beach over the last few days. The sharks, thought to be of the same species, are reported to be about a meter long with blue dorsal fins and black and white stripes.”

Enthusiastic as all tabloids are for a attention-grabbing headline, but also trying to appear as socially responsible, Coconuts goes on to say: “It’s actually a great sign that sharks are back in Hong Kong waters. If there are sharks, there are fish. And if there are fish, it means our seas are doing okay!
Scientists estimate that 100 million sharks are killed by humans every year, and Hong Kong is the world’s biggest trade hub for shark’s fin. If anyone should be scared – it’s the sharks!”

Here is the thing: it’s not sharks, it’s most likely mackerel…
How can this be?
Have a close (zoom in) look at Adri Blumberg’s pictures.

IMG_7852.JPG
Image: Adri Blumberg (Facebook)

Notice the shiny bluish color on the caudal (tail fin). Sharks have sandpaper like skin made up of tiny denticles (horns) that don’t normally shine, let alone iridescent blue. Bony fish with scales however have shiny skin often as in the case of coral reef fish in bright colors.

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Image: Adri Blumberg (Facebook)

The other thing is the strongly curved dorsal fin that shows hints of Rays and the sickle-shaped upper lobe of the caudal fin. Both are not seen in sharks or only rarely at least.

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Image: Adri Blumberg (Facebook)

And lastly there a close look shows dark stripes faintly recognisable on the back in front of the dorsal fin. Faint dark stripes point towards a tiger shark, but tigers are very bulky fish and have chunky straight dorsal and caudal fins.

The pictures look a lot like a fish from the Scombridae family that includes mackerel, though. One species recorded from HK is Narrowed-barred Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson), which commonly grows to 1.2m. I will not claim authority as an ichthyologist (fish biologist) but i am quite sure this is not a shark and very likely a mackerel or close relative.

What’s that? You don’t believe mackerel can be big enough to confuse with sharks? Check out this angling sites photos of the Chinese seerfish (Scomberomorus sinensis), a species of mackerel known from China, Japan and Korea.

Here are a few bad (but rights-free) Spanish Mackerel pics cropped to comparable proportions. What do you think?

 

1024px-Narrow-barred_Spanish_Mackerel-ed King_Mackerel-ed Spanish_Mackerel-ed

Baby Shark Causes Lamma Beach Overkill Alert

On Thursday (15th August 2014) red and shark flags were hoisted at two beaches on Lamma Island after a swimmer found a suspected baby shark that was about 50cm long at Hung Shing Yeh Beach. The flags were hoisted at Lo So Shing Beach as well due to its proximity to the location of the sighting. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department later identified the shark to be a spadenose shark (Scoliodon laticaudus).
In a stunning display of massive overreaction, the Government Flying Service and the Marine Police to swept the area for any large fish or sharks, finding nothing, while a LCSD sonar search also found no sharks. The shark net was inspected and was found to be in good condition.
The two beaches will remain temporarily closed for safety reasons, while all other LCSD beaches and water sports centres have “enhanced vigilance”.

Source: Coconuts HK

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Every year the Natural History Museum in London hosts the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition and you can even vote for the People’s Choice Award on their website.
I don’t want to sway your opinion but there are two images of marine animals that also occur in Hong Kong:

‘Baracuda Swirl’ by my friend Alex Mustard (UK)

&

‘Big Mouth’ by Adriana Basques (Brazil) – a great shot of a whale shark close up.

Now, go and vote!

Whale Shark Caught off Fujian, Butchered for Sale on the Street

As reported by news163.com on Friday the 1st of August 2014 a fisherman in Xiangzhi, Fujian province captured a 4.5-meter-long, two-ton whale shark that died soon after its struggle to escape.

The fisherman, Cai Chengzhu, said that as he and his colleagues began to pull their net out from the water, when they spotted a huge hole formed by the “giant fish”. “It’s believed that the giant animal broke the net and got inside to eat the fish we caught,” he said.
Note: the whale shark is the biggest fish in the world, but it’s not a predator and it consumes only microscopic plankton, not large fish as Mr. Cai seems to think.

Image by news163.com
Image by news163.com
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Image by news163.com
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Image by news163.com
fujian-whale shark-7
Image by news163.com

According to commentary by Coconuts Hong Kong,  “plankton flourishes in clean water, the presence of whale sharks is a sign of a healthy ocean area.” As a marine biologist I can pretty safely say that this statement is absolute BS (bovine faeces). Filthy water also has plankton…frequently huge amounts for example toxic algal blooms, jellyfish swarms – their all plankton, too.

The fishery department identified the whale shark, a second-class national protected animal. Regulation states that whale sharks should be set free right away if caught by fishermen. However, Cai transported the whale shark to land with a tractor. He reportedly planned to sell it for 10,000 to 20,000 yuan (about HKD 12,500 – 25,000 or USD 1,600 – 3,200) before he knew what the animal was. It’s illegal to buy or sell whale sharks, the largest known extant fish species. They can live as long as 70 years to 100 years. Whale sharks are classified as vulnerable by the WWF, and threatened by unregulated fishing for their fins and oil.

Cai Chengzu said that he originally decided to bring it to market, where he planned on selling it … but officials from the Fujian fisheries department refused to allow the sale of the endangered species. However, Chengzu seems to have sidestepped the ban for a curbside fire sale of shark meat, according to photos published by Shanghaiist. The fisherman butchered and auctioned the whale shark off at charity prices because “threatened species” laws are apparently about as enforced as “no-smoking” ones in China. This highlights once again the great need for more environmental education in China.

butchered-wshark1
Image by the Shaghaiist
butchered-wshark2
Image by the Shaghaiist
butchered-wshark3
Image by the Shaghaiist

Fortunately, despite this particular story, the global shark fin trade is on the decline. However, the statement from the Shanghaiist, that “various shark’s species are staging a comeback, thanks in part to Xi Jinping’s anti-extravagance campaign” is once again utter BS. A decline in the rate of killing of sharks does not in any logical way equate to a “comeback” – especially not in the space of one year. This is simply wishful thinking! It will take many years for shark species to recover to anything like their former populations from decades of global exploitation.

Whale sharks are sometimes found in Hong Kong waters, too, for example a whale shark was spotted at Sham Wan on Lamma by swimmers in July 2012 and in June 2008 a trawler caught a 5m whale shark and then released near Round Island (AFCD press release ). Tragically that shark later died and ended up in a landfill (WWF HK statement).