By Michael Field
A Chinese company killing hundreds of endangered sharks to make health supplements, has been exposed as running the world's largest shark abattoir.
Some of the supplements are sold in New Zealand, while others are presented as coming from New Zealand sharks.
The Hong Kong marine conservation group WildLifeRisk said it had run a four-year investigation into the company that it said was processing more than 600 endangered whale sharks a year, as well as dealing in two other threatened species.
They said migratory whale sharks present in Australian waters were being caught off the coast of China in the South China Sea, and also further afield in the Pacific - in waters of the Philippines, Indonesia and even as far away as Mexico.
"Evidence gathered points to an extensive trade network fanning out from China across the globe," the group said.
The sharks end up at a processing plant named "China Wenzhou Yueqing Marine Organisms Health Protection Foods Co Ltd" located in PuQi township near Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, in China's east.
Some of its shark liver oil or squalene is sold in health food shops in New Zealand and internationally on-line.
Several references to it say the squalene "is purely extracted from New Zealand cold water shark liver oil rich in vitamin A and D".
Alex Hofford and Paul Hilton of WildLifeRisk said in a statement that the scale of the slaughter was "truly staggering".
"How these harmless creatures, these gentle giants of the deep, can be slaughtered on such an industrial scale is beyond belief - all for human vanity; lipsticks, face creams, health supplements, shark fin soup restaurants etc," they said.
Hofford and Hilton said it appeared to be the world's largest wholesale slaughter of an internationally protected endangered species.
They said shark skins were sold as leather into the bag trade, while whale shark lips, stomach and flesh were sold into the restaurant trade as "food".
Shark oil is the big earner.
"Oil from the liver is extracted for skin-care products and lipstick, as well as for Omega-3 health supplements," they said.
The oil was sold internationally in contravention of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) regulations, they said.
WildLifeRisk said whole whale sharks were being obtained from Chinese coastal fishermen through an elaborate network of agents and middlemen.