It’s just coming up to Chinese New Year and the dried produce shops in Hong Kong are bustling with business. Shark Fin soup is very popular at this time of the year as families see in the New Year at large family banquets.

For those who haven’t been to the Sheung Wan district, it’s shop after shop stacked with shark fins of all sizes and species. Some with the skin still intact, others already cleaned and skinned. Huge ‘lucky’ fins garnished with red ribbons, locked in well-lit cabinets adorn the front of the shops. Some of these fins are so huge; they can only be from the giant Whale Shark or it’s closely related brother the Basking Shark, both IUCN protected species.

Sharks fins hong kong Dried fin

Walking past one shop I see an elderly couple inside sorting out their stock. As I gaze in through the door something catches my eye in a small basket on the floor. Two small, fresh looking fins, in a pretty bad way are draped over the side of a basket. The distinct markings can be only one thing.

“What is this?” I ask pointing at the small fins.

“Sharks fin,” the elderly lady replies.

“No, it cannot be,” I say, “These have spots on them, and sharks are grey (playing stupid)”.

“It’s a shark,” she says. Then motions for me to follow her to the back of the shop where she proceeds to point at a poster defining the different shark species.

“It’s that one at the top,” she says pointing to the Whale Shark!

Whale shark fins Whale shark

Still surprised that she has just admitted to me that she is selling Whale Shark fins, she then offers them to me at HK$500 (US$65) for the pair. She proceeds to tell me that they are only good for display, as the fins from Whale Shark don’t taste so good. I ask if she has anymore like this, she says no.

“There are not so many available as it’s a protected shark,” she proceeds to tell me.

I ask her if she knows where it is from, but she has no idea.

The Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) is the largest fish in the ocean, growing to a known maximum length of 42ft and weighing in at 21 tons with a lifespan of around 70-100 years. These gentle giants pose absolutely no threat to mankind and are often seen as the ambassadors of the shark world, helping to dispel the image that all sharks are ferocious killing machines.

They are filter feeders, swimming slowly along with their enormous mouths gaping open, as they filter feed plankton from the ocean. One of the main reasons for their protected status is the fact that their reproduction rate is so slow, only reaching sexual maturity at about 30 years of age. The population numbers are unknown and the species is considered vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).

Sharks fins hong kong

So here I find myself, standing in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, holding in my hands two fins that I place an educated guess, must be the two pelvic fins of a medium sized whale shark. I’m completely dumbfounded at mankind’s senseless destruction of the oceans.

This shopkeeper knows that the fins are from a protected species, but mentions it in such a carefree way that I guess the words IUCN Red List to her, are about as important as the 1986 Moratorium on whaling is to the Japanese whalers and the organization ICAAT is to the tuna fishermen of the Mediterranean. All of these organizations have established guidelines and regulations that would help end this massacre, but the world's governments fail in backing them up and enforcing any of them. If action is not taken soon it will be too late.

Gary Stokes,
Underwater Photographer & Videographer for Oceanic Love.

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