Hong Kong-based conservation group WildLifeRisk (WLR) announced on Monday that they have discovered a whale shark factory in Southern China that processes 600 of the endangered animals every year. The factory, located in the town of Pu Qi in Zhejiang province, pays up to 200,000 yuan ($31,000) per whale shark. According to WLR, this slaughterhouse has spawned its own global network of fishing boats that will hunt the whales on the operation’s behalf.

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The slaughterhouse also handles other shark species, including blue sharks and basking sharks, which when combined produce 200 tons of shark oil annually. Whale sharks continue to feed the market with fish oil used in supplements and cosmetics sold across the U.S. and Canada.

“How these harmless creatures, these gentle giants of the deep, can be slaughtered on such an industrial scale is beyond belief,” said a WildLifeRisk statement sent to AFP. “It’s even more incredible that this carnage is all for the sake of non-essential lifestyle props such as lipsticks, face creams, health supplements and shark fin soup.”

Undercover video footage produced by the group shows workers cutting up the large dotted back fins of whale sharks, whose skins are also exported to European countries such as Italy and France, where they are used by Chinese restaurants. Shark fins are also considered a delicacy in Mainland China, where many of the dismembered whales end up to supply these specialty restaurants.

Apart from the blatant disregard for this endangered species, there is a need for stricter regulation in countries that are home to markets that rely on fish oil for many of their products. As pointed out by Quartz, Canadian regulation of fish oil supplements is stricter than the U.S., but the industry is largely self-regulated when it comes to quality control. Because there is so much money involved, it’s important to reduce the demand for shark oil, as well as tackle the international criminals.

Via Quartz, Discovery

Images by WildLifeRisk