Offer of HK$20,000 convinces fisherman to free whale shark
Clifford Lo, Austin Chiu and Ng Kang-chung
SCMP Jun 07, 2008
A whale shark netted by a fisherman yesterday was spared from ending up in shark’s fin soup when a hawker offered HK$20,000 for its release.
The five-metre example of the world’s largest fish – a vulnerable species and protected in some waters – was accidentally trapped in the nets of the trawler in waters off Ocean Park at about 10am.
The owner of the 10-metre trawler, who gave his name as Mr Cheung, said the shark swiftly gave up struggling and floated to the surface like a log of wood.
Mr Cheung took the shark to the Aberdeen fish market and called officers from the Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department and Ocean Park experts to look at it.
But he got into a heated discussion with the officers when they asked him to release it. After five to 10 minutes, according to witnesses, seafood hawker Mark Gon stepped in, saying later that he had paid HK$20,000 for the shark’s release.
“There are not many of these sharks in the sea and they are kind in nature. I do not want to see them go extinct,” said Mr Gon, 24, popularly known as Kai Tsai, who said he had previously paid a fisherman to release two small sharks.
Mr Cheung said later he had not received any money, although he had been seen negotiating with Mr Gon.
Shark expert Suzanne Gendron, zoological operations and education foundation director at the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, dismissed any need for panic.
“The animal is very gentle and would pose no danger to swimmers or human,” said Ms Gendron, who however warned against getting too close to it for fear of abrasions from its rough skin.
Although the species is not dangerous, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said it would cancel all activities at the two water sports centres in Stanley today.
Shark warning flags were also hoisted at 10 beaches in Southern district.
Shark nets at the beaches had been checked and all were said to be in good condition, according to the department. “Swimmers at the 10 beaches are advised to swim within the shark protection net area,” a department spokeswoman said.
But Southern district councillor Wong Che-ngai said yesterday he believed tomorrow’s dragon boat race would go ahead as planned. “I think we need not overreact. After all, our races will be held in a typhoon shelter,” he said.
The whale shark, or Rhincodon typus, feeds on plankton, small shrimp and fish that it filters from water sucked into its huge mouth and expelled through its gills.
It is fished commercially and its population is unknown but it is considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
It was the third discovery of sharks in Hong Kong waters in the past three weeks. On Wednesday last week two 50cm white-spotted bamboo sharks, a harmless species, were found in a rock pool at the western end of Shek O Beach. On May 20, a young shark about a metre long was found dead at Cafeteria Old Beach, Tuen Mun.