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'The Cove' Director Exposes China's Illegal Shark Industry

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The Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS), the organization behind the academy award winning documentary “The Cove,” is once again producing a heart wrenching and educational film, this time capturing the illegal shark industry in China.

The processing plant “China Wenzhou Yueqing Marine Organisms Health Protection Foods Co Ltd,” located in China’s PuQi township near Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, was the target of Hong Kong-based NGO, WildLifeRisk investigators, spanning from January 2010 to December 2013. Investigators discovered that the plant has been reaping huge profits from the death of a minimum of six hundred endangered whale sharks a year.

“The Cove” director Louie Psihoyos teamed up with undercover investigators Charles Hambleton, and Heather Rally, NGO activists Paul Hilton and Alex Hofford of WildLifeRisk, and an anonymous interpreter, and posing as members of an international seafood company, they managed to meet with the shark slaughterhouse ownerLi Guang.

In a video taped meeting with Guang, the factory owner candidly provided details of his illegal operation, such as “smuggling shark oil (but labeling it as fish oil) to destinations around the world, including Shri Lanka.” He boasted that he is catching not only whale sharks, but also basking sharks, and great white sharks, all of which are federally protected species as part of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES) agreement, of which China is a signatory.

The investigation found that whale shark fins are used as ornaments in restaurants, shark skins are sold as leather into the bag trade, and shark lips, stomach and flesh are sold as food in the restaurant trade. Although these items generate income, the most lucrative is shark oil, that is concentrated in high quantities in the liver. Shark oil is extracted for skin care products, lipstick, as well as for Omega-3 health supplements. In spite of the fact that shark oil is illegal, both by CITIES regulations, as well as by Chinese national law and regulations, it is currently being sold to an international market.

“The scale of this operation is staggering. Thanks to the work of WildLifeRisk and others that have to remain unnamed to continue this dangerous and important work, we have a real shot at shutting Mr. Li down,” says Psihoyos. A report created by WildLikeRisk, states that “[T]his operation appears to be the world’s largest wholesale slaughter of an internationally protected endangered species.”

Although WildLife Risk has revealed that at least one factory in China’s Zhejiang Province is killing over 600 whale sharks annually, investigators believe that the PuQi factory is only one of many engaged in the trade of endangered sharks and their products throughout costal China.

Parts of the shark slaughterhouse investigation will be included in the Oceanic Preservation Society’s next film, “The Heist,” set to be released next year. Unlike its predecessor “The Cove,” the new movie will tackle a broader range of topics from the illegal slaughter of sharks, to the capture and killing of other animals listed as endangered species.

The Kickstarter for the film is over, but you can still hear the director talk about the project in the video below.

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