WWF-Hong Kong Calls for Protection of Whale Sharks

Posted 03 July 2012
On the sighting of a large fish by the Government Flying Service personnel off Lamma Island on Sunday, 1 July 2012, WWF-Hong Kong confirms from the video footage taken that it was a Whale shark (Rhincodon typus), and calls for its protection.

WWF-Hong Kong’s Conservation Director Dr Andy Cornish, an expert on marine life and author of Reef Fishes of Hong Kong, said that judging from the video footage taken of the fish, there is no doubt that it was a sub-adult whale shark.

“Whale sharks are very rare to Hong Kong and there is only one other sighting actually in Hong Kong waters the past decade or so that I am aware of, although they are found offshore each summer . They are the largest fish in the world, but live on plankton and do not harm people. The sighting should be cause for celebration, but there is currently no legislation in Hong Kong to protect this vulnerable species from harm. The last time a whale shark was found in our waters in 2008, it was caught by a fishing trawler, died and tragically ended up in a landfill. If any fisherman catches this whale shark by accident, we strongly urge that they release the fish immediately so that it can survive,” Dr Cornish said. "Whale sharks are already legally protected in many countries such as in Australian Commonwealth waters and the states of Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia, the Maldives, Philippines, India, Thailand, and Malaysia, and Hong Kong should follow suit."

He added that the Government should at least educate the public on sharks so that people’s safety is ensured on the one hand, and sharks are not unnecessarily killed, on the other.

The whale shark is the world’s largest living fish species. Whale sharks are filter feeders that eat plankton, krill, small fish, squid and algae. A slow swimmer of less than 5 km per hour, the whale shark is not aggressive and indifferent to divers. The habitats of whale sharks include tropical and warm temperature seas, deep and shallow coastal waters, and lagoons of coral atolls and reefs.

To date, there is no legislation protecting the whale shark in Hong Kong. It is listed ‘vulnerable and migratory’ under Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in Australia, and ‘vulnerable’ by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This species is also listed on Appendix II of Bonn Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) in 1999.