Kasumba Island, Indonesia
Indonesian government agencies, supported by the Wildlife Crimes Unit (WCU) of the Wildlife Conservation Society, this week confiscated two illegally caught whale sharks from a major supplier of large marine megafauna to the international wildlife trade.
The whale sharks were being kept in submerged pens. Once the animals were discovered by officials on May 26, Indonesian authorities arrested the suspected traffickers and the sharks were released back into the wild unharmed.
The bust followed an 18-month investigation into a sophisticated operation that the WCU was first alerted to in late 2014. The ongoing investigation is being led by Indonesia’s Ministry for Marine Affairs and Fisheries and includes the Ambon and Labuan Lombok’s Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Monitoring Taskforce and the Maritime Patrol from the Maluku Police.
WCU investigations over the last few months have suggested that the suspects illegally caught large marine megafauna (whale sharks, manta rays, cetaceans) for sale to facilities being built in China and elsewhere in SE Asia.
The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is listed as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). International trade of whale sharks is regulated under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
The arrest is testament to the dedication of the Indonesian government, the work of the WCU, and the partnerships that the we have been building across Indonesia to combat illegal trade in Indonesia’s threatened marine megafauna. This year alone WCU has supported 7 marine cases involving manta plates, sea shells, sea turtles, and whale sharks.
While we are grateful for the success, these cases remind us that we must continue to be vigilant.
In this instance, the suspects had recommendation letters from government authorities that allowed them to collect and breed ornamental fish. They were applying for permits to be a conservation institution that will allow them to capture, breed, and export whale sharks, dolphin, and manta but this had not yet been granted.
Under Indonesian law and regulations, whale sharks are a protected species and are not classified as ornamental fish. Indonesia Fisheries Minister Decree No. 18/2013 designates the whale shark as a protected species throughout the country’s nearly 6 million square kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).