Earlier this week an online video of a whale shark in Hong Kong went viral.
Unfortunately there is no specific protection for this species in Hong Kong, so experts are calling on the government to introduce laws to protect whale sharks which are infrequent visitors to Hong Kong waters in the summer months.
The footage was posted by a Lamma Island resident Robert Lockyer, who said the footage was sent to him by one of the fishermen who encountered the shark on Tuesday.
Lockyer said there had been another local sighting on May 22, but he believed it was a different shark at another location.
The fisherman who took the video did not wish for his identity or the location of the sighting to be known.
The decomposing body of a whale shark, a rare species in local waters, was found off the coast of Cheung Chau. The five-metre creature was spotted about 50 metres off the island by Cheung Chau resident Dan Carew. He reported the sighting to the police shortly before 7pm yesterday (31st August 2015).
The marine police later located the decomposing body near a coastal area off Cheung Chau Peak Road West. Carew told the media he saw the shark floating off the sea at sunset and immediately left his home to check it. It was later washed closer to the coast. Carew said there was a nylon rope around its tail. After studying the pictures and a video provided by Carew, the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation said it was a whale shark, characterised by its square head and pectoral fins.
A spokeswoman said the foundation could not tell how it died and would try to learn more from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. He said the largest known extant fish species was rare in local waters, although there had been occasional sightings.
Skin, fat and muscle samples were collected but a necropsy could not be made because of the poor condition of the carcass and the environmental restrictions on- site. AFCD has arranged carcass disposal.
The president of the Ichthyological Society of Hong Kong believes that the trawling ban has led to healthier fish populations. He predicts that in the future, we’ll be seeing even more sharks in Hong Kong.
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:
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.
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.
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.
According to WildLife Risk, a group of conservationists in Hong Kong who say they’ve undertaken a three-year investigation into the operation, the endangered fish are being processed at a Zhejiang, China plant called “China Wenzhou Yueqing Marine Organisms Health Protection Foods Co Ltd.” Read full news item and see the video at RYOT
A whale shark Rhincodon typus was spotted at Sham Wan on Lamma Island on 27th of June 2012
The whale shark, Rhincodon typus, is a slow, filter feeding shark that is the largest living fish species in the world. It feeds on small shrimps, fish and plankton. The shark is found in tropical and warm oceans and lives in the open sea. The species poses no danger to humans.
This video clip was made by a member of the public and posted on Youtube. I take no responsibility or credit for the content of this clip. You can see that the shark is struggling in the rocky shallow water just off the beach (ca. 5 to 10 meters by my estimate). Eventually it makes its way back to sea. Reports suggested that it may have been spotted again off Deep Water Bay on the 3rd of July, but could not be confirmed. Whale sharks are found in tropical waters world-wide, so its presence in Hong Kong is not surprising. In fact, on the 6th of June 2008 at about 2pm a trawler caught a 5m whale shark and after identification by the Agriculture and Fisheries Department in at the pier off the Aberdeen Wholesale Fish Market it was released back at to the waters of Round Island around 4.30pm (see AFCD press release linked here). Tragically it died and ended up in a landfill (WWF HK statement).
Given how much sharks fin is traded and eaten in Hong Kong its more surprising that the shark got away without being caught, mutilated and sold for sharks-fin soup. What is really interesting is that this beach is not just a turtle breeding spot with AFCD protection and a beautiful scenic spot thanks to the regular clean-ups done as part of the turtle protection, but it also has some nice hard coral areas in some places and now a whale shark! I think it should be declared a Marine Park. Who is with me?