Two whale sharks, recently discovered being illegally held in underwater cages off the coast of Kasumba Island in eastern Indonesia, have been released back into the sea this week. The sharks, which are protected under Indonesian and international law, were only 12-feet when they were illegaly caught by megafauna smugglers, but they can grow to over three times that length if allowed to mature in their proper environment, the open ocean.
Whale sharks (which are sharks by biology, but whale-like in their proportions) are the largest fish on the big blue planet. These bus-sized behemoths can reach 12 metres (40 feet), and they patrol the depths of the world’s oceans. Utterly harmless to humans, it’s when they swim close to the surface to feed that they become vulnerable to hunters and criminals who supply such rare stock to the international wildlife trade.
The sharks were liberated after a bust, which was the culmination of an 18-month-long investigation by the Wildlife Conservation Society, a New York-based nonprofit organisation that assisted the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries with the raid. According to officials, the pair were likely about to be transported to China or somewhere in Southeast Asia, where they would probably have ended up on the chopping block.
Three years ago animal activists from WildLifeRisk exposed a slaughterhouse in China that was butchering approximately 600 whale sharks and basking sharks per annum. In an impoverished region, the risk versus reward allure of whale sharks is too great, with each carcass is worth an estimated $30,000 once the fins and meat have been sold into local markets and the skin and oil has been sent abroad for use in handbags and health supplements. .
Happily, however, these two young giants have escaped such as grissly fate for now, and are now tasting freedom again, albeit with tracker tags attached to them.